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The setting sun decorated the sky over the ocean with streaks of red, gold and hints of the midnight that would soon overtake the perfect powder-blue of a summer day in Florida. Light bounced off the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and bathed Homicide Detective Angie Carlucci's restless nature in soothing warmth. She didn't mind the humidity she'd been warned about.
Staring out at the serene horizon, she searched for signs of the brewing storm the weatherman had predicted. There were none that she could see.
Sitting on the deck of her aunt's vacation cottage a stone's throw from the shelled beach of Loribel Island, she tried to unwind against the cushioned backrest of a wooden Adirondack chair and propped her feet on the railing. Inactivity made her antsy.
There wasn't even a television to veg out in front of. And no cable even if she wanted to buy a TV. She'd already tried going online. But noooo. No Internet. Not even a wireless connection she could piggyback on. At least her cell phone picked up a random signal now and again. The roaming charges were going to be murder on her phone bill.
She let out a long-suffering sigh and wiggled her red-tipped toenails, the result of her mother's insistence she have a spa day before leaving Boston on vacation.
Angie had to admit she rather liked the way the polish made her feet look. Small and dainty. So unlike how she normally felt.
Bored, she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply of the fresh salty air, tasting the brine of the ocean, savoring the feel of moisture and heat on her skin.
Come on, relax.
The problem was she didn't see any purpose in a vacation. So she worked more hours than needed, so she didn't have a social life to speak of, that didn't mean she wasn't content with her life. It was everyone around her who thought she needed to take time off.
Rest, everyone kept saying. She slept most nights just fine, thank you very much.
In the distance she heard the rumble of a motorboat. She'd watched so many boats coming and going from the marina a mile or so down the beach that she could almost picture the vessel in her head: sleek, fast and luxurious. Seemed everyone on the island had a boat of some sort.
Maybe tomorrow she'd rent one. That would be fun. And active. Something sleek and fast. Yeah, real fast.
She realized she wasn't the sit-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing sort of vacationer even if she wanted to be.
The noise of the motor cut off abruptly. Angie opened her eyes. Sure enough, a slick, white twenty-five-foot craft with lots of chrome railings bobbed in the water at least a hundred yards offshore. Two white males heaved something long and black over the side of the boat.
Angie's feet dropped to the deck and her heart rate kicked into high gear.
A body bag.
Those men just dumped a body into the ocean!
The engine restarted and the boat sped off.
She jumped to her feet and ran for her cell phone, praying she'd have a strong enough signal to dial 911. She did. She quickly identified herself and explained the situation. The operator put her on hold.
"Seriously?" Angie said to the silent line.
Every instinct in her screamed for action. While keeping the phone cradled between her ear and her shoulder, she searched for her shoes. She crouched down to find one slip-on sneaker under the sofa. The other she found near the stairs leading to the loft bedroom.
From the drawer in the kitchen, she snatched her compact Glock, kangaroo holster and badge before grabbing the keys to her rental car. She left the cottage and drove in her rented convertible toward the marina. She was sure she'd recognize the boat if she saw it again.
Finally, the operator returned to the line.
"The chief's on his way."
"Tell him to meet me at the marina on the south side of the island."
Angie hung up and concentrated on not speeding through the peaceful streets populated with cyclists and pedestrians of all sorts.
Feeling alive for the first time since she'd arrived on the island, Angie savored the rush of adrenaline pumping through her veins. This was what God meant for her to be: protector of the innocent, the righter of wrongs, the one who brought the bad guys to justice and gave the families of the dead peace.
The image of the body bag played across her mind.
Whoever was now at the bottom of the ocean deserved her attention.
She found a parking place in the small lot, then ran to the docks, her gaze seeking out the boat she'd seen. The sun had completely set, but thankfully the tall, high-powered overhead lights provided plenty of illumination as she ran from one end of the dock to the other, searching for the vessel.
Frustration beat an uneven rhythm at her temple. The slick white boat wasn't moored anywhere.
The sudden sensation of being watched raised the fine hairs at the back of her neck. She jerked to a stop and slowly scanned the area for danger. Her gaze landed on a six-foot-two, mid-thirties white male, only a few feet away. He was wiping down the sides of his expensive boat. Curiosity etched in the lines of his strikingly handsome face and radiated from his blue eyes.
It probably wasn't every day he saw a woman running up and down the marina like a crazy person.
Tall, lean and unmistakably well muscled beneath a bright yellow polo shirt and ridiculously loud Bermuda shorts, he looked the quintessential yachtsman. His light brown hair was longer in the front and flopped attractively over his forehead.
Angie arched one eyebrow as a means to deter additional interest. To her chagrin, he smiled. A slow, awareness-grabbing smile that squeezed the air from her lungs.
The screech of tires broke through her momentary daze and made her snap to attention. Dismissing the too-handsome man as any sort of threat, she watched a forest-green truck with a light bar across the cab's roof and the official Loribel Island Police Department decal on the door jerk to a halt at the pathway leading from the parking lot to the docks. An older, silver-haired man stepped out and hurried down the path to her.
Angie turned her back on the good-looking boater to focus on Loribel Island's chief of police. She stuck out her hand. "Chief…?"
"Chief Decker." He shook her hand. "You the one who called in a dead body?"
"Detective Angie Carlucci, Boston P.D.," she said, and then explained the situation.
Decker frowned. "So you didn't actually see the body?"
"I saw a body bag. If you have access to a boat I can take you to where I witnessed the dump. It was approximately a hundred yards from shore."
"You're staying at Teresa Gambini's place, right?" Stroking his chin, Decker glanced at the nearly dark sky. "Well, now, by the time I get one of our boats from the other end of the island it'll be pitch-black out on the water. Even the coast guard wouldn't be able to get a boat out here any sooner."
"And in the meantime the tide carries the body away," Angie stated as disbelief at the man's lack of concern and urgency poured through her.
"That's certainly a possibility. We'll make a wide search of the area. If there is a dead body, there's nothing we can do for the person now. The morning will be soon enough."
Deep down she agreed, dusk was rapidly closing in, but it still galled her to wait. "What time tomorrow?"
Decker shrugged. "Nine, tenish."
"Great. I'll be here at nine," she said, irritated by his lackadaisical attitude. "In the meantime, you could have the other marina checked for the boat I saw."
He gave her a patient smile, showing aged and crooked teeth. "Yes, ma'am, I could do that." He took a small notepad from the breast pocket of his green uniform. "Details?"
She described the boat. "It had three words written across the side, but I think they were in a foreign language."
"That's not much to go on. A lot of boats fit that description. If I have any questions, how can I reach you?"
She rattled off her cell-phone number. "But I'll see you in the morning."
Decker eyed her a long moment. "I think, Detective Carlucci, you should enjoy your vacation on the island and leave the police work to us. If I have anything to tell you, I'll call."
With that he walked back to his truck and drove away. Angie stared after him.
"Well, that was awfully condescending of him," a Southern-accented male voice said behind her.
She whirled around to find herself staring into the smoky-blue eyes of the yachtsman. Up close he was even more appealing. Firm features with strength of character etched in the straight line of his jaw and a confident set to his wide shoulders. Some elemental warning alerted her senses.
She shouldn't be noticing his attractiveness, not when he'd been able to move so close without her knowledge. Usually her senses were sharper, more acute to potential danger.
The tranquility of the island must have dulled her wits, she rationalized and frowned with wariness.
She backed up a step, creating more space between them. "Do you normally eavesdrop on other people's conversations?"
"Only when they're two feet away and aren't exactly keeping their voices low," he said in a tone as smooth as Earl Grey on a brisk New England morning.
Unexpected little shivers traipsed over her skin. She rubbed her arms and conceded his point with a nod. "Right. Excuse me."
She turned to leave. His hand shot out and clasped her right elbow in a tight grip. Alarm flushed through her system. Her heart rammed against her rib cage in a painful cadence. Instinct took over.
She pivoted right, wrenching her elbow back and away as her stiff left hand thumped hard against his forearm, effectively breaking his hold. Once free, she jumped back to land in a fighter's stance, weight on right leg, left leg ready to kick if need be. Her right hand gripped the butt of her holstered weapon.
She'd been wrong. The man posed a threat. She just didn't know how much of one. Or why.
Surprise washed over the guy's face. He jerked his hands up in a show of entreaty, palms out, fingers splayed. "Whoa, whoa! Hey, Detective, I didn't mean any harm."
"Wouldn't dream of it," he drawled in his thick Southern accent.
"Who are you? And what do you want?"
"Name's Jason Bodewell." He gestured toward the classy boat behind him. "I charter my boat out for the tourist trade."
Taking calming breaths, Angie relaxed her stance slightly. "Okay. So…?"
One side of his well-formed mouth lifted. "So, I was going to offer to take you out."
She blinked. Heat crept up her neck. What? "Out?"
His eyebrows rose. "To look for the body."
A little embarrassed groan escaped. "Oh. Right." So he'd heard everything. What was he? Some sort of crime-scene gawker? Or just a good citizen wanting to help?
Though her heart rate beat faster than normal, the adrenaline eased. She moved her hand away from her Glock and thought about his offer. She really didn't want to wait until morning to get out there and prove that she'd seen a body being dumped. She knew what she'd seen.
Narrowing her gaze, she pinned him with a hard look. "Do you have scuba equipment?"
He nodded. "Are you certified to dive? At night?" Her PADI—Professional Association of Diving Instructors—certification had expired years ago. And she'd never gotten around to getting her night-dive certification. "Are you?" she countered. "I am."
"Would you be willing to dive down?" He flashed a grin. "Would be my pleasure." Now, why did his words give her pause? Why was he so eager to help? "Fine, I'll take you up on the offer. But keep your hands to yourself. And no sudden movements."
"Oh, you can trust me." "I could, but I don't."
His blue eyes twinkled. "I'd be shocked if you did. Considering you're a cop and all." He strode to the boat and untied the ropes from the dock. "Come on, I won't bite," he coaxed. "I promise."
Hoping she wasn't making a mistake, Angie followed. Glad she'd brought her personal firearm with her, she placed her hand back on her weapon. Just in case Jason decided to renege on his promise.
Aware that his attractive guest was as nervous as a long-tailed cat on a porch full of rocking chairs, Jason started the engine and smoothly maneuvered the Regina Lee away from the dock.
Covertly, he glanced over at the detective. He liked the way her brunette hair was pulled back into a wild puff of curls and the way her brown eyes, the color of chicory coffee, observed everything. Her lithe figure moved with grace and agility beneath her denim cropped pants and V-neck T-shirt.
Her peaches-and-cream complexion barely hinting at a touch of sun suggested she hadn't been on the island long. She'd told the chief she was a Boston homicide detective. Her accent attested to that fact. She sounded like she'd been born and raised in Bean Town, too.
She made a credible witness. Yet, she'd been brushed off by the chief like a bothersome mosquito. Curious.
The deck boat the detective had described sounded similar to one reported to be in use by Picard.