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9:40 p.m. Thursday
Lee Harper was no longer sure he could trust himself. Sometimes he would be in the living room and call to Francine to come see a show on TV. When she didn't respond, he would go looking for her.
And only then would he remember that his wife was dead.
She'd been killed seven weeks ago at the convenience store where she worked part-time. An aftershock from the earthquake had caused the store to collapse. Help hadn't arrived until it was too late to save her.
Knowing all of that, Lee Harper still found himself turning to speak to her and was always shocked and a little disoriented to find her gone. Not that unusual after forty-six years of marriage. No children. Francine had conceived four times, all miscarriages, all heartbreaking. They had stopped trying, stopped talking about children. It was better that way.
He'd been an English professor until last year, when he retired. He could recite complete Shakespeare plays from memory, knew hundreds of poems, and in all those years had never forgotten even one of his students' names.
"It's just grief," friends and colleagues had said. They'd been supportive at first. But as the weeks went by, they suggested he see a doctor.
No one understood that his mind had started to go when Francine was killed.
Now sometimes he left the stove on. Sometimes he didn't know where he was or how he'd gotten there. His grief felt like a tumor inside him, eating him alive, destroying a mind that had once been "sharp as a tack."
For a while the question—when he was thinking straight—had just been what to do. How could he right the terrible wrong of Francine's death? That question had kept him awake for days and left him feeling impotent. There was no way to fix things. No way.
Then he'd met Kenny Reese. And for the first time in weeks, he'd no longer felt confused. Kenny had a plan.
Lee Harper stared down at the crude drawing he'd made of city hall. It was a historic building, U-shaped, one wide marble stairway up the middle, one elevator at the back. For the past week he had staked out the place and knew exactly when everyone arrived each morning and who stopped for lattes and doughnuts, as well as the security system and the exits.
But as he took off his watch and set it next to the blasting cap and explosives, he felt a tremor of doubt. Was this what Francine would have wanted? He no longer knew.
It was the only thing he could think to do, and he had to do something. He couldn't explain this urgency in him, a feeling that if he didn't act now, he might not be able to later.
Anyway, the plan was already in place. In a matter of hours it wouldn't be just one old man who mourned Francine Harper's death. When Lee finished, the entire city of Courage Bay, California, would finally feel her loss.
Anna Carson lifted the last item from the suitcase. A worn extra-large white T-shirt, the lettering faded almost beyond recognition: Property of Courage Bay Police Department.
Instinctively she brought the soft cloth to her face and sniffed, as if Flint's scent would still be there after five years. Funny, but for a moment, she thought it was. A masculine, clean scent that had always made her heart pound.
She couldn't believe she'd been dragging his old T-shirt around with her all these years. At first, after the breakup, she'd slept in the shirt. It was huge on her, falling past her knees, wide enough for two of her. Just the size of it reminded her of how she'd felt in Flint's arms. Totally wrapped up.
Wishful thinking. And that wasn't like her.
Well, she didn't need the shirt anymore, or the memories, she thought as she glanced out the open patio doors of her new apartment, breathing in the sight and smell of the Pacific. The sea was glassy, golden in the last of the day's light. From the third-story deck, she could hear the waves breaking on the sandy beach. It was one of the reasons she'd taken this apartment. Here she had the view, the sounds and smells of the only place that had ever felt like home.
Too bad everyone in her family had moved away after her parents divorced. Her dad at least was only upstate, a few hours away by plane, in Sacramento. Her mother was in Alabama with her family. Her sister Emily and husband Lance were in Seattle.
It was as though everyone had scattered after Anna left. As if the family had blown apart. Not that it hadn't been ready to blow before Anna had announced that her engagement to Flint was off.
"You didn't really throw the ring at him!" Her sister Emily had given her the eye roll that meant she thought Anna had done something irrational. Her younger sister had been giving her the eye roll for as long as Anna could remember.
"The ring is yours to keep," her mother had said, always the mercenary.
Anna had looked at the two of them as if they'd lost their minds. "I never want to see that ring again. Ever."
Her mother and Emily had exchanged a she-is-never-going-to-get-it look. To them, there was no higher calling than a wedding ring on a woman's finger.
Anna had figured the timing was as good as any to tell them the rest of her news. "I'm going to Washington, D.C., and become a SWAT team paramedic." She was rewarded with gasps from both mother and sister. She'd looked to her dad, expecting his support.
Anna frowned now at the memory. She'd thought he would be excited about her decision.
Instead he'd looked worried and upset. "If you're certain that's what you want to do," he'd said. "But make sure you're doing this for the right reasons, Anna." Not exactly what she'd been expecting.
"Isn't it… dangerous?" Emily had asked.
"That's what she likes about it," her mother had said. "She wants to turn my hair completely gray." Everything was always about their mother.
Anna shrugged off the past and the memories that had tried to weigh her down the last five years. She wasn't responsible for her parents' divorce—no matter what her sister said.
"You becoming a SWAT whatever was the straw that broke the camel's back," Emily had accused her at the time.
"Thank you, Emily, I really needed that," Anna had replied. "I'm sure it was me and not the fact that our parents have never gotten along, were never compatible in any way, and now, finally free of children, can happily go their separate ways."
"They used to be in love," Emily had said indignantly. "Before… before everything that happened."
Anna turned now to survey her apartment, not surprised that coming back to Courage Bay would stir up the ghosts of her past. The apartment, though, was perfect—small, but the view of the ocean made up for space. She took another deep breath of the night air and let it out slowly. It did feel good to be back.
A tremor of excitement rippled through her. She hugged herself, wrapping her arms around Flint's T-shirt, still in her hands. The excitement was quickly replaced with anxiety. Flint. Eventually she would run into him. He must be a detective by now and on the fast track for the chief of police job. Hadn't that always been his dream?
She wondered how he'd take the news that she was back in town. Unfortunately she didn't have to guess how he would react to her new job. Not that it mattered to her one way or the other. Not anymore.
It probably wouldn't matter to him, either, she realized. Not after five years. Flint was a formidable ghost, one she'd spent years trying to exorcize from her thoughts. She doubted it had taken that long for him to forget her.
Walking to the open deck door, she breathed in the sea air, trying to clear her thoughts. There was nothing more to do tonight. She was moved in and would start work in the morning. She had a 7:30 a.m. meeting with Chief of Police Max Zirinsky.
She doubted she'd be able to sleep a wink, she was so excited. She had the job she'd set out to get. A great apartment. And she was back in Courage Bay. Nothing could spoil it. Not even the thought of Flint Mauro.
She glanced back over her shoulder at the phone book, which she'd left open on the bed. Okay, she hadn't been able to help herself. She'd looked up his number. Just to see if he was even still in town. He was, although he had a different number from the one they'd had when they'd lived together. It seemed he'd moved to the harbor area. She didn't recognize the address, but then, Courage Bay had grown since she'd left.
Anna had made a point of not keeping up with local news during those years she'd been gone. Since her family had moved away, there had been no reason to come back to Courage Bay until this job offer.
For a while after she'd left, she'd stayed in touch with friends in town, but quickly realized she didn't want to know what Flint was doing, didn't want to hear about his latest girlfriend or any stories about his latest case.
For all she knew, Flint could be married by now with a couple of kids.
The pang of regret surprised her. She thought she'd long ago forgotten those silly talks they used to have lying in bed, debating what their babies would look like. They had both wanted a large family. They'd even come up with some names. What was the one that had made them both laugh so hard?
She shook herself out of that thought pattern and closed the deck doors. She had put Flint and Courage Bay behind her. Until Max had called with the job offer and she'd realized there was nothing she wanted more than to come back home. Courage Bay had been her home all but five of her twenty-nine years.
Now she wondered why she hadn't asked Max about Flint when he'd offered her the job. Max had known them both well. He'd known how devastated she'd been when she'd had to break off the engagement and leave.
She guessed the reason she hadn't asked Max was that she didn't want him thinking she was still hung up on Flint Mauro. Because she wasn't. Flint had nothing to do with her life anymore. Nor she with his.
As she turned, she realized she still had his T-shirt in her hands. She walked over to her new wastebasket and dropped the shirt into it. Tomorrow she started her new life in Courage Bay. No regrets. No looking back. She wasn't the same young woman who'd left here, and she was bound and determined to prove it.
Flint Mauro stood on the stern of the boat he called home and stared out at the Pacific. A cool breeze stirred his thick black hair, lifting it gently from his forehead. He frowned as he took in the familiar horizon.
Do Whatever It Takes. That was his motto, wasn't it? Do Whatever It Takes. And that's what he did every day. Focusing on his job, his boat, his workouts. Not thinking about the past. The past was too painful. And yet it was there. A splinter just under his skin. On nights like tonight he could feel it pricking him, making him itch for something he'd once had—and had lost.
The flag on the bow flapped restlessly in the breeze coming off the sea. He closed his eyes, concentrating on the familiar scents of the ocean and the night. He'd bought the boat and moved aboard five years ago, the only place that he found any peace.
And yet sometimes he thought he smelled her perfume on the sea breeze. On those nights, he would swear that he heard her soft chuckle next to his ear, felt her pass by so close that her skin brushed against his, making him ache with a need that only she could fill. Unfortunately tonight was one of those nights.
Why was he thinking about Anna now? After all this time? He'd jumped right back into dating after she'd broken off their engagement.
"Get back on the horse before you forget how to ride," his friends had advised.
So he'd dated. A lot. But none of the women, no matter how pretty or sweet or capable, was Anna Carson.
"You can't replace cream with water," his boss, Police Chief Max Zirinsky, had said.
"If you're suggesting I was the one who threw out the cream, the cream being Anna, you're wrong. She's the one who broke up with me," Flint had told him. "And don't give me that look. It wasn't my fault."
Max had just shaken his head. "Someday you'll figure it out. I hope."
Max. Flint had a meeting with him first thing in the morning. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep—not knowing what was waiting for him tomorrow morning at the office. There'd been a rumor going around at work that the chief was going to be making some changes. And just before Flint had left work today, Max had called him into his office.
He and Max had always been close. Not that they didn't disagree at times. Nor did Flint ever forget who was boss.
But when he'd followed Max into his office, Flint had been surprised that the chief had gone behind his desk and immediately begun to busy himself with some papers.
Max didn't look up. Nor did his voice convey any warmth, as if he'd been expecting an argument out of Flint.
"I'd like you at a meeting tomorrow morning. Seven a.m." Max continued sorting the paperwork on his desk.
"Seven a.m.?" Flint asked in surprise.
"Is that a problem?" Max finally looked up.
"No," Flint said quickly, wondering what he'd done that had put Max on edge. "Can't you tell me what this is about?"
"Seven a.m.," Max repeated. "We'll discuss it then."
Flint had wisely left without another word. He knew Max well enough not to argue. At least not all the time. Flint had learned to pick his battles.
Was he looking at a battle in the morning? He had a bad feeling he was. He stared out at the sea, surprised again that his thoughts drifted back to Anna. What was it about tonight? Whatever it was, he'd play hell getting a decent sleep this night.
Lorna Sinke opened a can of cat food and set it on the counter. As soon as she did, the cat jumped up and began eating with enthusiasm. A cat eating on the kitchen counter. Her mother must be rolling over in her grave, Lorna thought with a smile. There'd never been pets in this house. Not while Lorna's parents had been alive, and they'd both lived to their eighties.