Read Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace Online

Authors: Colleen Coble

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Suspense, #Mystery, #Adult, #ebook

Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace (5 page)

BOOK: Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace
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“You live in the lighthouse?” he asked. “I haven’t been to town much since I returned two months ago. When I was a kid, I used to prowl around that deserted lighthouse. I figured someone had turned it into a museum by now.”

“It’s not a lighthouse anymore. The Coast Guard replaced it with the offshore automated light years ago,” Bree said. “I’m in the process of restoring it. I’m on the last room now.”

“How long have you owned it? I figured someone from out of state bought it—someone with more money than sense.” He grinned to take the sting out of the slur.

“That might have described me and Rob at one time.” Bree laughed. “When we bought it, the chimney had fallen through the roof, and the porch boards were all decayed. Rob had inherited some money from his grandmother and a plane from his uncle. The lighthouse was just another piece of Rob’s dream. Our dream,” she amended.

“You’ve done most of it yourself,” Naomi said. “I don’t know how you’ve managed all alone.”

Bree smiled. “I plan to reinstall the Fresnel lens and light the tower, someday.” Her gaze softened and took on a faraway look. “I’d like to think my light might save a ship someday.”

Kade wondered what had triggered her obsession with rescuing people. It was admirable, but surely something had caused it. Did it start with the deaths of her husband and son, or had she always been that way?

Kade stopped in front of the bed-and-breakfast and let Naomi and Charley off. Naomi waved at them from the front porch then went inside. Kade drove on down Negaunee to the lighthouse.

Gravel crunched beneath the pickup’s tires, and Kade stopped the vehicle in front of the lighthouse. The brick building’s pink paint gleamed in the glare of the porch light, but the light tower was dark. Bree opened the tailgate for Samson and followed him to the front door. Kade lowered the windows. The smell of boat exhaust hung heavy in the moist air blowing in from Lake Superior. A ship’s horn bellowed a lonely note in the middle of the bay. The Ojibwa called the lake
Kitchigami,
which meant “giver of life,” though right now he felt
that meaning was erroneous. It was more a taker of the life he wanted. At one time he thought he’d left this place for good, only to find he was trapped in it as easily as a rabbit in a hunter’s snare.

The slap of the water against the pier carried across the water. “Thanks again for all your help. I’ll call again if we need assistance.”

“You’re welcome,” Bree said. “Let’s hope you don’t have more lost campers anytime soon.”

“We both know that’s not likely,” he said with a wry grin. “People are pretty foolish when it comes to the wilderness. They think diving into the forest is no more dangerous than taking a stroll in the city park.”

Bree grinned. “I guess I’ll see you around then, Ranger Matthews.”

“Call me Kade,” he called through the window as he pulled away. The few businesses open in Rock Harbor’s three-block business center spilled enough light onto the sidewalk to make it appear quasi-welcoming. The neon still shimmered above The Coffee Place. He pulled into the café parking lot.

The rich aroma of espresso took the edge off the day’s frustrations. He’d been as surprised as everyone else in town when The Coffee Place got a newfangled espresso machine. It had proven surprisingly popular with more than just tourists. Milt Granger’s boy, Brad, was behind the counter, but he was too busy talking to a sweet young thing with three studs up each ear lobe to pay much attention to Kade. Kade coughed several times before Brad took his order. Kade finally succeeded in getting his latte and a turkey club sandwich with a piece of chocolate pie.

“Mind if I join you?”

Startled, he nearly spilled coffee down the front of his shirt. “Hello, Fay,” he said. Just what he didn’t need. Fay Asters stood behind him with one hand on a slim hip. He pushed out the chair opposite him with his foot. “Have a seat.”

“You seen Eric around?” she asked, sliding into the chair. Her slim
fingers played with her hair then slid down to fidget with the chain around her neck.

“I’ve told you to stay away from him. He’s trying to straighten his life out. You’ll just muck it up again.” It was hard to keep his gaze from the quick movements of her hands.

“You’re not his keeper.”

“No, but thanks to you, he had one of those for three years.” He’d never understood what Eric saw in Fay. Slim to the point that she had none of the womanly curves most men admired, she didn’t even wear makeup unless she was in her femme fatale mode. It must be that innocent, little-girl way she had about her, a facade that hid the truth of her real nature.

She laughed, a silvery, tinkling sound that drew his gaze to her mouth. Okay, so that was attractive too.

“If you see Eric, tell him I have important news,” she said.

She slid away from the table with a grace that reminded Kade of a sleek cat. He drummed his fingers on the tabletop and wondered what he could do to keep her away from Eric. Whatever her news was, it would likely bring trouble.

3

T
he Blue Bonnet Bed and Breakfast might not have been the most popular lodging spot in the Keweenaw Peninsula, but Naomi and her mother were beginning to get some repeat visitors. Naomi closed the register with a sense of satisfaction then stretched out the kinks in her back. The scent of lemon polish and the faint aroma of pine cleaner in the air were worth the soreness in her muscles. Six thousand square feet of house, and every inch of it polished and shining. The new crop of weekend visitors would arrive later in the morning.

The registration desk stood at the end of the entry hall. They’d opened the wall between the office and the foyer, and now an antique marble counter separated the two. Naomi sneaked a book from under the counter. Maybe she could get in a few pages before her mother came down. She flexed the spine, and, as if on cue, her mother floated down the curved walnut staircase. She disappeared momentarily into the parlor before hurrying toward the office in the room behind the entry.

Though fifty-eight, Martha Heinonen’s skin glowed a pink, healthy hue of fresh air and hard work. Strands of silver were just beginning to highlight her hair, and her consistent exuberance made her even more attractive. Dressed in a pink-flowered dress with a soft skirt that swirled around her still-shapely calves, she looked every inch the lady. Someone had once told her she looked like England’s reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth, and since then she’d played up any resemblance to the hilt, a fact Naomi found amusing.

Naomi guiltily tucked away the book before her mother could see it and level her usual litanies about ruining her eyes and how men weren’t interested in a bookworm. Maybe her mother had a point. The men weren’t exactly beating a path to the door.

“There you are, darling. I peeked in the parlor on the way down. It looks lovely. I see you managed to get that stain out of the piano scarf. You are such a treasure!” She disappeared again, this time in the direction of the kitchen, and emerged a few moments later carrying a heavy tea-and-cookie-laden tray as though it weighed nothing.

“Come along before the tea gets cold,” Martha said.

Naomi followed her to the parlor. Martha set the tray on the coffee table and sank into the plush armchair upholstered in pink cabbage-rose chintz. “It’s nearly time for our guests to arrive. Are you going to greet them dressed like that?” She wrinkled her nose at Naomi’s faded jeans and oversized T-shirt.

Naomi often wondered how she had been born to such a woman. She preferred denim while her mother craved silk. Her mother teetered daily on two-inch polished pumps, while the footwear on Naomi’s shoe rack looked like castoffs from the Salvation Army: scuffed boots, flats with eroded heels, and ragged tennis shoes. Still, Naomi and her mother got along well. Naomi did the heavy cleaning; her mother prepared the elegant teas and made small talk with the New York businessmen and the bored Connecticut housewives. Her mother’s pies were famous throughout the peninsula.

Naomi had been gearing up to deal with the subtle guilt her mom would try to impose. “I’ll change my top to something nicer.” It was as great a compromise as she was willing to make today. Some days she wished she could let the real Naomi come out in full view, but it just took too much energy to confront her mother. Compromise had led her to a placid state of living with her mother at nearly thirty-two. She found small victories like this one hollow, knowing the battle had been lost long ago.

The doorbell pealed. “I’ll get it.” Naomi made her escape and stepped into the long entry hall. She opened the door and found Bree standing on the front porch.

Naomi grabbed Bree’s arm and drew her inside. “You’re just in time to save me from strangling my mother.”

Bree chuckled and followed Naomi into the parlor. “You may not be so thrilled when you hear what I’ve come to tell you.”

“Mom just put out some tea and cookies. Come tell us all about it.”

Bree followed Naomi into the parlor.

“Bree, dear, I was just thinking about you.” Martha smoothed her flowered skirt and leaned over to pour the tea. “You look like you could use something to drink.”

Bree plopped onto the sofa and curled one denim-clad leg under the other. “You two are my sanity. Oops.” She fished around under her and pulled out a book. “This has to be yours.” She handed it to Naomi.

“I was wondering where I put that one,” Naomi said with a surreptitious glance at her mother. She’d managed to hide the book she’d been reading in the office from her mother, but not this one.

“I don’t know why you tote a book everywhere you go; you’re always losing them. I could stock a library with the books you’ve lost.” Bree took the cup of tea with a smile of thanks. “I have a summons from the mayor,” she said with a dramatic flourish of her hand.

Naomi wrinkled her nose. “The poodle has issued a decree?”

“Girls, that isn’t respectful,” Martha murmured.

Naomi felt a shaft of shame. But Hilary got under her skin in the worst way. She bossed Bree around, and Bree let her. Naomi didn’t understand the hold Hilary seemed to have on her friend. She pushed away her unspoken censure of Bree, who had been through so much. It was no wonder she craved peace at any cost.

“What for?” Naomi asked.

“Hilary’s reelection campaign kickoff dinner is tonight. Mason’s too, of course, but since he coasts on Hilary’s coattails, his campaign is
immaterial as far as she’s concerned. I thought maybe I could evade an order to appear, but my luck ran out. So did yours.” She looked over her teacup at Naomi and raised an eyebrow for effect. “She wants
us
to come so she can show off yesterday’s successful search like her latest trophy.” Bree took another cookie and bit into it.

Naomi groaned. “Not a dinner party! Anything but that!”

Martha smiled, her eyes lighting with pleasure. “That means a fancy dress, Naomi dear.”

Bree grinned. “I’m afraid your mom is right, Naomi. It’s pull-out-all-the-stops, knock-’em-dead time.”

Naomi fell back against the couch in an exaggerated posture of despair. “And here I thought you were my friend.”

“Hey, that’s what friends are for,” Bree said with a trace of smugness. “For that and chocolate-chip cookies.” She took another bite of cookie and grinned.

Bree studied the large topographic map that decorated the wall in the lighthouse’s spare room. She needed to get an updated copy. This one had some inaccuracies. She was almost done with sector fifteen, which was smack in the middle of the southern half of the Kitchigami Wilderness. Should she move east or west? Or keep pushing north? The Rock River Gorge wilderness lay east of sector fifteen. She hadn’t even begun to search there. The monumental size of her task felt almost suffocating.

Saturday was not normally her preference for a search day. Hunters and fishermen were out in force on weekends, and they tended to try to engage her in conversation when their paths crossed hers. But October’s Indian summer wouldn’t last long, and she needed to take advantage of every hour.

Though she knew she should spend the day preparing for Hilary’s party, she decided to finish sector fifteen, on the west side of the gorge.
She pulled her backpack and rescue vest out of the spare room’s closet, found her cell phone, and headed for the woods.

Six hours later, the only thing she’d accomplished was closing the door on sector fifteen. No sign of a crash anywhere.

Weariness gripped her as she drove home. A party was the last thing she felt like attending. Driving up Negaunee Street, the light tower of her lighthouse seemed illuminated from within by the last shafts of clear sunlight, and she was reminded again of the repair that needed to be done. Yet one more thing to attend to. Suppressing a sigh, she parked the Jeep, let Samson into the backyard through the gate, then went inside to get ready.

She took a quick shower and washed her hair then cinched her robe around her waist. The thick terry cloth felt warm and comforting after schlepping through the cold forest mist all day. She sat at the dressing table with her makeup bag in hand. Dark circles marred the pale skin under her eyes. It would take some major paint to pass Hilary’s critical inspection. Bree made a face at herself in the mirror. If Hilary didn’t like the way she looked, she’d be glad to go home. She finished dressing and drove to Naomi’s.

Bree pulled up outside the Blue Bonnet and honked the horn. Naomi came out the front door almost immediately. Dressed in a classic black dress with pearls and heels, she looked every inch a lady. A gold lamé shawl reflected light into her elegant upswept hairstyle.

“Looks like your mom got hold of you,” Bree said with a grin. “You look great though.”

Naomi rolled her eyes. “I wanted to wear my red dress, but Mom said it made me look cheap.
Cheap.

“You couldn’t look cheap no matter what you wore,” Bree said comfortingly. “Hop in and let’s go wow them all.”

Naomi managed a faint smile. “You always know how to make me feel better,” she told Bree.

Naomi fastened her seat belt then leaned forward to fiddle with the radio. “How do you listen to this stuff?” she complained. “No one listens to Elvis anymore.” She punched the search button until Houghton’s country station came on. Singing at the top of her lungs, Naomi belted out the lyrics to a Reba song.

BOOK: Rock Harbor Series - 01 - Without a Trace
4.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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