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Authors: Loreth Anne White

In the Waning Light

BOOK: In the Waning Light
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ALSO BY LORETH ANNE WHITE

A Dark Lure

The Slow Burn of Silence

Wild Country

Manhunter

Cold Case Affair

Shadow Soldiers

The Heart of a Mercenary

A Sultan’s Ransom

Rules of Engagement

Seducing the Mercenary

The Heart of a Renegade

Sahara Kings

The Sheik’s Command

Sheik’s Revenge

Surgeon Sheik’s Rescue

Guarding the Princess

“Sheik’s Captive”
in
Desert Knights
with Linda Conrad

More by Loreth Anne White

Melting the Ice

Safe Passage

The Sheik Who Loved Me

Breaking Free

Her 24-Hour Protector

The Missing Colton

The Perfect Outsider

“Saving Christmas”
in the
Covert Christmas
anthology

“Letters to Ellie”
a novella in the
SEAL of My Dreams
anthology

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2015 Loreth Anne White

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

www.apub.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503949669

ISBN-10: 1503949664

Cover design by Jason Blackburn

This one is for the folk at Kelly’s Brighton Marina.

MEGGIE

“We are not dispassionate viewers of the world. Witnesses and detectives are heavily influenced by what they expect to see, what they want to see, and what they actually see. The more ambiguous the latter, the more influential the first two. Similarly, what we remember depends upon what we believe—the human mind is not an objective recorder of information . . .”

~ MJ Brogan,
Sins Not Forgotten

The white bookshelf in the living room was where my sister kept her goldfish in a little aquarium with a plastic coral reef under which they could hide, silvery bubbles trailing gently to the surface, perfectly regulated temperature and oxygen content. It worried me, as a child, those little orange fish trapped in their box, mouths gasping, eyes beseeching through the glass for a way to swim free.
Don’t be stupid, Meggie,
my sister would say.
They live in a perfect world. There are no predators in their water, like the poor wild fish have to deal with in the sea.
But Sherry didn’t know that sometimes the predator lives right there. Among us. In that perfectly regulated world. And he looks just like all the other fish in the bowl . . .

Meg lifted her hands from the keyboard and tried to rub blood back into her fingers. She was cold to the bone, working in fingerless gloves at the tiny camper table. Wind off the Pacific buffeted her rig, and rain thick with slush
thucked
against the windows. Outside the sky was black and thunder growled. The docks groaned and heaved against moorings as the waters in the bay crept insidiously higher, waves slapping and chuckling over the lip of the deck, over the sandbags, slinking toward the marina buildings that she and Noah had vacated an hour ago. The phone lines were down. Power was out all the way up the coast. The storm and tsunami surge moving in.

She was writing to keep her mind off waiting, as a way of moving forward. Writing this story because it’s what she’d set out to do—the sole reason she’d returned to Shelter Bay.

But she’d not known how much it would take out of her, and it still was not done exacting its toll.

Every now and then, the faint beam of the lighthouse managed to penetrate the fog in its Cyclopean sweep, an omniscient, mythological giant that loomed high on the black rocks at Shelter Head—warning sailors of the jagged maw below. The foghorn put out its haunting moan—a sad, sonorous sound that tugged at Meg’s soul, full with the mystery and lore of shipwrecks and sailors lost at sea.

Her camper was packed and ready to move to higher ground if the surge rose any higher. Noah was finally sleeping—she could hear from the deep, steady rhythm of his breathing as he lay tucked up in her sleeping bag. The child was exhausted, and Meg wanted to remain with him at the marina as long as she could because his father was still out there. On the water, alone, searching for his brother.

The Coast Guard was no help. They were deluged with distress calls from boaters up and down the coast caught by the dramatic shift in weather and the sudden tsunami warning, and there was a Japanese tanker adrift farther north, pushing dangerously toward the rocks near Cannon Beach.

Meg scrubbed her gloved hands over her face, a greasy sickness bubbling in her stomach at the thought of Blake. Of what had happened between them. The secrets those Sutton brothers had kept from her all those years.

Secrets that had killed her family.

If it wasn’t for Noah, she wouldn’t be here now. She’d be back in Seattle. But as much as she hated Blake at this moment, she was not about to abandon his young son. She’d wait until she got a call from him on her cell, or until he returned.

If
he returned . . .

She forced her focus back to her laptop. Not much time left until her battery died. She’d been writing her book out of sequence, puzzle chunks coming together bit by bit as she’d interviewed the principals involved with Sherry’s murder.

The fish in Sherry’s bowl died before the end of that summer. My parents forgot to feed them. And then they forgot me.

I died, too, that summer. In a different way.

So did the town.

Before Sherry’s murder, Shelter Bay was a picture-perfect
postcard town. A place where tourists flocked for holidays and ate ice cream and rode horses on the beach and laughed around campfires in the state park. Where kids l
eft bikes in the road and those bikes would still be there come morning. Where neighbors never locked doors and shared hot apple pies over fences. Sherry’s death tore open a community, exposing a shocking black gut. It made enemies of friends and turned justice gray. Our innocence was stolen that day. And it didn’t stop there—like a pane of glass that had been smashed, the cracks from the first violent stroke feathered insidiously out over the ensuing months to create a web of even deeper, more dangerous fissures that ended up swallowing two families whole. And taking yet more life.

That hot August day started like one hundred others, with the rise of the sun and the screech of gulls as the salmon boats went out. With the soft clunk of wood on wood as small crab boats jostled for space, nudging each other playfully along the docks of Bull Sutton’s Marina. With a crisp wind lifting spindrift from the crests of rolling breakers, and bending the dune grasses that grew in white sand along the miles of spit. With sandpipers and black oystercatchers scuttling along the foam scallops left on hard-packed beaches by waves withdrawing from the shore only to rise up and pound back down again.

It had been a summer full of watermelons and sunblock and backyard barbecues, of purple blackberry smiles, of sea salt tingling on sun-warmed skin, of burning knees skinned raw in pursuit of tree houses and yet higher boughs. Of brightly painted buoys, and crab pots, and driftwood art. Of fresh local cheese from Chillmook farms, and the briny scent of pink crabs being boiled fresh from the bay.

A summer to be lived, full throttle, with the ferocity of youth. And skateboard wind in your hair.

But this day was going to be different. Before the sun set on this last day of innocence, Sherry Brogan would be dead. And I would be found unconscious in the shore break, lolling in the waves like a dead seal, my skin fish-belly white. Blue lips. Slimy seaweed tangled in long hair slicked back from a gaping gash across my brow.

That was almost a quarter century ago . . .

Meg paused. Then she scrolled quickly up to the top of her document and typed in a title.
Stolen Innocence
. She stared at it a while, the cursor winking in her dark camper. Thunder clapped and she flinched, her blood electric. A jagged streak of lightning cut into the black bay. It was closing in. Almost right above. Sleet pelted down harder. Noah moaned in his sleep. She glanced in his direction, then reached across the table and opened the blinds a crack with her fingers. It was hard to see how high the water was now, through the sleet, blackness, and mist. A few more minutes and she’d go outside with her flashlight to check again.

Deleting the title, she retyped:
The Stranger Among Us
. She chewed her lip.

This was not how she usually worked.

In all her other books, before she even started, Meg knew exactly who the perpetrator was. Don’t pick an unsolved case. This was almost a cardinal rule in true crime. Before you started to write, you had to know the ending. You had to know who your villain was, that he’d been captured, charged, tried, and convicted. Certainly, she followed cases, trials, saved newspaper clippings, took notes in anticipation, but readers of true crime expected to see justice prevail. That was the appeal of the genre. It made people feel a little more in control of a world where bad things happened to good people. They gravitated to the genre because it gave them real-life heroes—cops, prosecutors, judges who helped bring closure to victims. Who righted the natural order of things. It showed there was recourse. It restored faith.

But this time Meg was unsure who the villain was.

She’d thought she’d known. The sheriff, deputies, DA—the whole town had been one hundred percent certain that twenty-two years ago Tyson Mack had raped and strangled Sherry Brogan, and that he’d been punished for what he’d done.

Until a few weeks ago.

Until Meg had returned to Shelter Bay to write Sherry’s story.

Until she’d started peeling back layers to reveal a dark web of lies and misdirection and eyes turned blind to the fact that someone else could have done it.

And that
he
could still be out there. Among them.

She returned her attention to her words. The battery would need to be charged soon. Maybe twenty minutes left. Meg considered technique for a moment. Perhaps a more omniscient, almost Dickensian approach, zooming down into the story with an all-seeing eye, might help her distance herself from the case, and ease the flow.
Just get it down. However it comes. You can refine later. Don’t think of Blake and Geoff out there . . .

She resumed typing:

If you were to fly over this section of the Oregon coast, you’d see the village of Shelter Bay snugging up against a large body of water protected from the ocean by a spit of white sand four miles long. Man-made reefs guide the tidal waters in and out of the bay mouth, and it’s here where fishermen often push their luck just a little too far, bringing out the search-and-rescue Jet Skis and ambulance. The north end of the spit is state park. It’s covered with coastal pines and scrub, and networked with trails, a popular spot for camping with horses.

Looking back twenty-two years ago you’d note two key residential areas bisected by the coast highway that curves around the town’s waterfront commercial hub—one subdivision to the west, up a rise that afforded vistas of the sea, and a smaller one to the southwest, over the Hobson River, which feeds into the bay. The southern subdivision is where the Brogans’ double-story stands. Behind the house, state forest rolls thick and wild up into mountains and covers thousands of acres. Because of the diverse terrain and climate in this county—over seventy miles of scenic coastline, five bays, nine major rivers—it’s not unusual for people to go missing.

But murder—now, this is something Sheriff Ike Kovacs and his deputies are not accustomed to dealing with.

Let’s zoom the camera in closer, pan over Front Street with its quaint little stores, past the town hall and fire hall and elementary school, over the Catholic church and tidy cemetery, the Lighthouse Diner with its mini replica of the lighthouse that stands proud at Shelter Head. Now, zoom in on Bull Sutton’s Marina.

Telescope the camera in yet closer; come right down
to the marina. See the bobbing boats? The buoys? The lit
tle turquoise shed at the far end of the dock that houses the
life jackets and crab pots? The one with the orange life ring
on the wall? Focus on the girl in denim shorts running down
the gangway. Her long hair is deep red—the same color
as
the wood of ancient cedars that grow up the coast. And
she’s not a girl, really. She’s in that tricky window between
childhood and womanhood. She’ll be fourteen in a week.

Her cheeks are pinked and her eyes sharp with intent as she races in her sneakers along the far dock. A boy, Blake Sutton—sixteen—towhead and tan, with fierce green eyes under a deep, strong brow, stops hauling in a crab net and watches her lean, pale legs.

“Where are you going, Meg?” he calls.

“None of your business!”

“Why no crab pots?”

She doesn’t answer. She reaches the end of the dock and scrambles into a boat: tin hull, green paint, Johnson two-stroke outboard motor. Not wasting a second, she unties and casts free the mooring line, and pushes her craft away from the dock. She yanks the starter cord. In a puff of blue smoke the engine coughs to life.

“You should take a life vest!”

She ignores him. She turns the tiller handle, increasing engine power. Slipping out of the marina, she ramps up speed across the bay, leaving a wake of white foam on dark green. The tide is coming in, and all about her the sea is aflicker and murmur and illusion. She’s not worried. She imagines the carpet of Dungeness crabs underneath, crawling atop one another, sea spiders moving along the sand floor with the ebb and surge.

As she reaches the center of the bay, wind smacks
her
full in the face, salty and cold off the point. She lifts
her face
to it, a pennant of coppery hair snapping behind
her. She owns the summer. This bay. This town. This is her
world. She knows the water’s moods as surely as she knows
the contents of tidal puddles in rocks, where to find purple
periwinkles, where to pick the best mussels and dig the
fattest butter clams. It’s her territory. Her own little aquarium. Safe from predators that don’t hunt in perfect sunny American-apple-pie towns like Shelter Bay.

But in the play of light and shadow among the shore pines and swaying dune grasses on that late September afternoon awaits a fate, a horror she cannot imagine because it’s not even remotely in the realm of her experience, so terrible she will not be able to remember it for twenty-two years. So terrible it will fracture this town, and shatter lives within. It will cost Meg her family. Life as she loves and knows it.

Blake watches her go.

She’s moving fast and with purpose toward the white sands of the opposite shore.

He wants to follow, to play on the ocean with her. To kiss her mouth. But summer has kept him chained to the marina, working for his dad. Anger slices through him. His older brother has shirked his duties again, sneaking out before dawn with his sack to collect flotsam for his “art.” Blake saw him from the upstairs window, his boat skimming like a bug on the predawn, glassy stillness of the bay. Also headed for the spit.

“Blake!” his father calls from the marina up top. “Got a customer waiting!”

He slams down the empty crab pot and stomps in his rubber boots up the gangway.

BOOK: In the Waning Light
2.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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