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Against The Tide
By Kat Martin
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Kat Martin
All rights reserved.
The piercing ring of the cell phone lying on his nightstand didn't bode well. There was no such thing as good news at three o'clock in the morning.
With a sigh, Rafe rolled over and grabbed the phone, scrubbed a hand over his face as he pressed it against his ear. "Brodie."
"Police Chief Rosen here. We've got a problem, Rafe, and it's a bad one. I need you to meet me down at the harbor. How soon can you get here?"
Rafe swung his long legs to the side of the bed and sat up. "Ten minutes. What's this about, Chief?"
"It's Scotty Ferris, Rafe. I'm afraid he's dead. I'll fill you in when you get here. I'll be waiting on the dock next to the Scorpion." The police chief hung up the phone.
For several long moments, Rafe just sat there. His chest felt tight. Scotty Ferris was twenty-four years old, a handsome, hardworking kid who was engaged to be married. His June wedding to Cassie Webster, one of the local girls, was only three weeks away. Cassie was going to be crushed.
Rafe swore softly. What the hell could have happened?
But in this rugged country where the climate, wild animals, or just bad judgment could get you killed, accidents happened all the time.
Shoving himself up from the bed, Rafe grabbed a pair of worn jeans off the chair and jerked them on, drew a sweatshirt over his head, pulled on his heavy socks, and shoved his size-thirteen feet into a pair of high-topped, rubber-soled boots. Since the temperature at night even in late May was still in the thirties and it had rained during the night, he grabbed his jacket as he headed for the steps down to the garage.
The boat harbor wasn't far from his house, a brown bilevel with an oversized two-car garage that sat a few blocks north on Mendeltna, a street off Hazelet Avenue there in Valdez. Sea Scorpion was his flagship charter fishing boat, a thirty-eight-foot Mac, his pride and joy. It was the boat he usually captained himself, one of three that made up his fleet. Scotty Ferris was part of Scorpion's crew.
Rafe thought of the young man as he parked his dark green Ford Expedition in a spot in front of the harbor, climbed out, and closed the door. Puddles from last night's rain sloshed against his boots as he made his way toward the dock. The occasional streetlight burned into the darkness, but quiet surrounded him, along with the familiar salty tang of the sea.
Ringed by the snowcapped Chugach Mountains, gleaming white glaciers, and the turquoise waters of Prince William Sound, Valdez was considered one of the most beautiful places on earth.
But the climate was a major drawback for most people, being wet, cold, and snowy much of the year. Rafe couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
Which brought his thoughts full circle to Scotty. With year-round residents numbering less than forty-five hundred, everyone knew everyone who lived there. And everyone knew and liked Scotty. The kid had been born in Valdez. He thrived on the rugged lifestyle, planned to marry and raise kids here, probably never would have left.
What the hell had happened? Rafe thought again as he walked toward his boat.
And why did Chief Rosen want to meet him at the Scorpion?
A few spaces down from where he'd parked, Rafe spotted a black-and-silver Ford police SUV. In the distance, the familiar antenna above the wheelhouse of the Scorpion marked where the boat bobbed near the middle of the dock.
Rafe started down the long wooden walkway, his gaze on the group of people gathered next to where the Scorpion was moored. The area was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape, the boat clearly off-limits until the police were finished collecting evidence.
Police Chief Clifford Rosen, a stout man in his fifties, bald head ringed by thinning gray hair, stood next to a figure lying on the dock, covered by a long, white cloth. Knowing Scotty Ferris lay under the cloth made Rafe's stomach burn.
Two other officers quietly conversed while a doctor he recognized as Karen Ward, a woman who worked at the local clinic and served as medical examiner, knelt next to the sheet-draped body.
"What happened?" Rafe asked the chief.
"Looks like he was robbed," Rosen answered. "Wallet's missing, jewelry's gone. Car keys. Cell phone's missing. Single blow to the back of the head. Blunt instrument. Baseball bat seems the most likely, something that size that would be easy to handle."
"I asked you to come down because I need someone to identify the body. With his parents both dead, I figured better you than his fiancée. Soon as you do that, I'll break the news to the Webster girl."
Rafe just nodded. Cassie was going to be devastated. She and Scotty were crazy in love, the kind Rafe figured had a good chance of lasting. Sometimes fate could be a real bastard.
"Who found him?"
"Young couple wandered out this way from the Fisherman's Catch Saloon. Found him lying right there. Shook 'em up pretty bad."
"Two a.m. The M.E. makes preliminary time of death between eleven and two."
One of the officers, a red-haired young cop Rafe recognized as Rusty Donovan, leaned down and lifted the edge of the sheet. As the cover rolled back, Rafe's gaze fixed on Scotty. The boy's brown eyes were open, staring sightlessly into the black night sky. His handsome face was frozen in a look of surprise.
He was wearing a jacket but it was unzipped, revealing a long-sleeved blue T-shirt that read FISHERMEN DO IT DEEPER. Rafe could almost see the grin on the kid's face when he'd put it on.
"It's him," he said darkly. "Scott Ferris."
"You know what he was doing down here?"
"No." But once he got his head wrapped around Scotty's death, he intended to find out.
"As soon as we check for any forensic evidence on the boat, I'll want you to take a look inside, see if anything's missing. At first glance, there's no sign of a break-in. Probably took him out before he went aboard."
Rafe just nodded.
"That's it then," the police chief said. "We'll wrap things up here and I'll talk to Cassie Webster."
Rafe looked down at Scotty and clenched his jaw.
"You're going to catch the sonofabitch, right? You're going to find the guy who killed him?"
"If he's in town, we'll catch him. If he's some loser just passing through, might be a whole lot harder."
Rafe frowned. "You don't think he was killed by a local?"
"Wouldn't be my first guess. Hell, we haven't had a murder here in years. But violent crime's been creeping up lately—assaults, thefts, burglaries. These days anything's possible."
"Either way, you're going to get him," Rafe repeated, making it clear there had better not be any doubt.
Rosen just nodded. "Thanks for coming down."
"Keep me posted, will you?" When the chief made no reply, Rafe shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, turned, and started back the way he'd come.
It was almost dawn. If he had a fishing charter today, he'd be at the dock by five, getting ready to take the boat out at six. He did half-day cruises; nine hour; or full-day, twelve-hour charters that lasted till six p.m.
He wasn't taking a group out today, which meant he wouldn't be seeing Jaimie Graham, the nineteen-year-old girl who crewed for him along with Scotty. She dressed like a man, worked like a man, but under her determination to prove herself in the world of men, Jaimie had a bad crush on Scotty. She was going to take the news damned hard.
Rafe got into the Ford and started driving toward the house Jaimie lived in with her parents. He needed to speak to her, break the news before she found out from someone else. He hated to wake up her folks, but he didn't have any choice.
Rafe sighed into the darkness. He wished he could just go back to bed, get some badly needed sleep, but there was no chance of that.
Not with his mind circling around, going over what had happened, trying to make sense of the senseless murder of Scotty Ferris. Trying to think why Scotty might have been down at the Scorpion in the middle of the night. Wishing he knew who had killed him.
Thinking how much he'd like to wrap his hands around the bastard's neck and squeeze till he paid for what he had done.CHAPTER 2
The breakfast crowd at the Pelican Café had begun to arrive, as people did every morning when it opened at six a.m. The café had opened its doors in the fifties and been going strong ever since. Of course, it had passed through a dozen different owners, had its ups and downs, and been near financial ruin more than once.
Having purchased the restaurant six months ago, Olivia Chandler was the most recent person to step into the driver's seat. Unlike the previous owner, who had let the place sink into disrepair, Olivia had been making changes, most of which had been heralded with great enthusiasm by the local customers.
The bell above the door rang as a young mother and her little girl walked in and headed for one of the light blue vinyl booths. Melissa Young, Olivia remembered, was her name. Liv made a point of getting to know her customers—just not too well.
While Melissa grabbed a child's high seat and settled one-year-old Suzy in it, the waitress, a slim little blonde named Katie McKenzie, grabbed the coffeepot off the burner behind the counter and headed for the booth. Katie smiled as she filled Melissa's mug and handed her a menu.
"I'll give you a minute to decide," Katie said, hurrying off to another table to refill an earlier patron's cup.
One of the changes Liv had made was to hire a new cook—one who wasn't high on marijuana half the time. Wayne Littlefish was Alaska Native, reliable and great in the kitchen. An older man, Charlie Foot, worked the dinner shift.
Liv had also hired two part-time waitresses instead of one full-time worker, which gave each of the girls a more flexible schedule and made taking time off easier for all of them, including Olivia and long-time employee, Nell Olsen.
A buxom woman with thick, silver-streaked black hair, Nell had worked at the café for more than ten years. She was as much a fixture as the sky-blue interior, the ocean theme, and the anchors and fishing nets on the walls.
Nell had been invaluable in helping Liv take over the business since, aside from waiting tables for the past couple of years, being a fairly decent cook, and a very fast learner, Liv had almost no experience in running a restaurant.
Still, in the last six months she had managed to keep the old clientele happy and add new customers. The tourist season was just starting, so business was getting even better.
"Well, look who's coming," Nell said, staring out the window at a tall man in jeans and a sweatshirt crossing the outside patio. The brick patio was empty now while it was still cold, but with summer approaching, soon would be noisy with people. "If it isn't Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome."
Katie walked past Liv just then, a platter of bacon and eggs riding on the flat of her hand. "I just call him Mr. Freakin' Hot."
"Shame on you," Liv teased. "You just turned twentyone. Rafe Brodie's got to be at least a dozen years older."
"Just means he's a man not a boy. And I like a guy with a little experience."
"From what I hear, he has plenty of that," Liv said dryly as Katie sailed off to deliver the food.
Nell chuckled. "I'm fifty years old and that man can still make me swoon."
Olivia busied herself wiping off the long Formica-topped counter as Rafe shoved through the door, ringing the bell above. Seating himself in his usual booth, he stretched his long legs out in front of him. Rafe was a regular in the café, which sat on North Harbor Drive right across from the boat dock.
"Katie's busy," Nell said with a matchmaking glint in her eyes. "Why don't you wait on him?"
Olivia shook her head. "I'm busy, too. You go ahead."
Knowing there was no persuading her, Nell sighed. "Probably better you don't. Everyone in town knows Rafe's a dedicated bachelor."
As the owner of the café, Olivia caught most of the local gossip. According to Cassie Webster, the other part-time waitress, Rafe Brodie had dated a woman named Sally Henderson for nearly three years, until she dumped him four months ago because he refused to marry her.
Apparently, he'd made his intentions—or lack thereof—clear from the start, but Sally hadn't believed him, poor girl.
Dedicated bachelor or not, Nell and Katie were right. With the thick, dark brown hair curling just over his collar, the faint shadow of beard that usually lined his hard jaw, and those hot, whiskey-brown eyes, he was one of the best-looking men Olivia had ever seen.
Which was exactly the reason she had avoided him since the day she had met him.
Oh, she'd been pleasant enough when she had to be, spoken to him for a moment when she'd been introduced to him at a chamber of commerce mixer right after she'd bought the café, but she always managed to be too busy to wait on him.
No use putting temptation in her path. It was simply too dangerous.
Still, as she worked taking orders and delivering meals to the patrons at the counter, she couldn't help an occasional glance in his direction. He had always reminded her of a dark-haired lion, powerful and dangerous yet fascinating in some primitive way. He looked different today, the shadow along his jaw darker, as if he hadn't had time to shave, his handsome features set in grim lines, and faint shadows under his eyes.
She watched as Nell chatted with him a moment, then Liv watched the easy smile Nell usually gave him slip from her face.
The coffeepot wavered. Rafe grabbed the glass pot to keep her from dropping it and spilled hot coffee over his hand.
Olivia didn't hesitate, just grabbed a towel, wet it with cold water, and hurried in Rafe's direction. He was sitting down again, Nell fussing over him, relieved to see Olivia approaching.
"Here—wrap this around your fingers." She handed him the wet towel. "It's cold enough to ease the pain and keep the burn from getting worse."
"I'm all right," Rafe said. "It's no big deal." But he accepted the wet cloth and looped it over the back of a big, suntanned hand.
The man was all of six-four, two-hundred-plus pounds, with a solid, athletic build and very wide shoulders. Liv was five-nine, but Rafe was more than half a head taller. She tried not to stare at his mouth, which seemed harder this morning without the smile he always had for Nell.
She glanced in her friend's direction, sucked in a breath as Nell's pale blue eyes filled with tears.
"Oh God, what is it?"
Nell blinked and the tears rolled down her cheeks. She wiped at the wetness with a trembling hand. "I could tell something was wrong. It was stamped all over Rafe's face."
Liv glanced from one to the other, saw the same grim expression on both of their faces. "Tell me what's happened."
Nell swallowed. "It's ... it's Scotty. He was killed last night."
Olivia felt the blood seeping out of her head. She found herself sinking down on the bench opposite Rafe. "Oh God. That's why Cassie didn't show up for work this morning." The reason Olivia had had to call Katie.
Rafe's towel-wrapped hand unconsciously fisted. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything. I figured since Cassie works here, Nell already knew."
"I'm glad you told me," Nell said. "I need to go to her, make sure she's okay."
"I'll cover while you're gone," Liv said. "We'll be fine."
Nell wiped fresh tears from her cheeks. "This is going to break her heart. She loved Scotty so much. Everyone loved him."
"I can't believe he's dead," Liv said, aching for the young woman whose future had been shattered. "What happened?"
"The police think it was a mugging," Rafe said. "Whoever did it stole his wallet, jewelry, cell phone."
"Where did it happen?"
"On the dock next to the Scorpion."
Liv frowned. "What was he doing down at the dock at night? He's usually home with Cassie."
"I don't know. I talked to Jaimie Graham before I came over. She had no idea what he was doing down there."
"Jaimie had an awful crush on Scotty," Nell said. "She must have taken the news real hard."
"Jaimie isn't good at hiding her feelings," Rafe said.
Excerpted from Against The Tide by Kat Martin. Copyright © 2015 Kat Martin. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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