On Fireby Carla Neggers
Riley St. Joe's marine biologist parents were killed in a fiery boat crash when she was just nine years old. She's never really accepted that explanation for their deaths- and when a man who could be her father shows up out of the blue, she realizes her family has been keeping secrets that could threaten all of them.
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- 4.19(w) x 6.63(h) x 1.02(d)
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Riley ignored the slight tremble in her hands and jammed the two ends of her high-performance paddle together. She zipped up her life vest. There was no reason to be nervous. She'd kayaked the coves and inlets of Schoodic Peninsula since she was six years old. Today's conditions were near perfect: a bright, clear, still September morning, halfway between low tide and high tide.
She squinted at her grandfather, who'd come down from his cottage to the short stretch of gravelly beach to see her off. "Come with me," she said.
He shook his head. "You go on. You need to get back out on the water."
"I've been out on the water. Caroline Granger had us onto her yacht for a cocktail party Friday night."
"Cocktails." Emile snorted. "That's not getting out on the water."
She knew what he meant. She hadn't been on a boat, a ship, even a kayak, since the Encounter disaster a year ago. On the Granger yacht off Mount Desert Island Friday night, she couldn't make herself go below. She'd never been claustrophobic, not until the watertight doors had shut her and Emile into the diving compartment, not until the two of them had endured the hot, cramped, terrifying hours in the experimental submersible.
This had to end, she told herself. She was a scientist, director of marine and aquatic animal recovery and rehabilitation at the Boston Center for Oceanographic Research. She couldn't get spooked about the water.
"I shouldn't kayak without a partner."
Emile shrugged. "You'll stay close to shore. Just watch out for fog rolling in later."
"You're sure you won't come with me?" she asked him.
"I can kayak anytime I want."
One of the perks of his exile, he seemed to be saying. After the disaster of the Encounter, Emile Labreque had shocked the world by retiring to the Maine fishing village where his family had settled generations earlier. It had been his home base for years; he owned a small cottage, where Riley and her sister had spent summers growing up. He looked after a small, private nature preserve on a part-time basis. The last hurrah of a legend.
He eyed Riley as she dragged her shocking pink, sit-on-top ocean kayak to the water's edge. He wore his trademark black Henley and khakis, and at seventy-six, he was as alert and intense as ever. She'd inherited his lean, wiry physique, his dark hair and eyes, his sharp features—and, some said, his single-mindedness.
"You're planning to stop on the island?"
She nodded. "I packed a lunch. If the fog doesn't roll in, I'd like to have a little picnic on the rocks, like the old days."
He gazed out at the water. The bay sparkled in the morning sun. Labreque Island was farther up the point, almost at the mouth of the bay—a tiny, windswept landscape of rock, evergreens and sand that had been in Emile's family since the turn of the century.
"I should warn you. John Straker's staying at the cottage."
"Straker? Why? What's he doing back here?"
"He took a couple of bullets a while back. He came home to recuperate. I let him use the cottage on the island."
Riley digested this news as if it were a hair ball. John Straker wasn't one of her favorite people. He'd left the peninsula years ago to join the FBI. A lot of people in his home village couldn't believe the FBI had accepted him. She'd only seen him a few times since. "Who shot him, criminals or his friends?"
"A fugitive who took a couple of teenagers hostage. It had something to do with domestic terrorism."
"Right up Straker's alley. Anyone else hurt?"
Emile shook his head. "You know, John's not much company on a good day."
"This is true. I'll just have to keep to the other side of the island. He won't even know I'm there. I didn't realize the cottage on the island was still inhabitable."
"He's fixed it up a bit. Not much."
"How long's he been out there?"
She shuddered, then grinned at her grandfather. "Well, tough. I'm not afraid of John Straker. Will you be here when I get back?"
"I doubt it."
She hesitated, debating. "I'm stopping in Camden on my way back to Boston. Is there anything you want me to tell Mom and Sig?"
Riley nodded without comment. Perhaps, she thought, too much had been said already. Her mother and sister—Emile's only daughter and older granddaughter—blamed him for the Encounter, for Bennett Granger's death, for the deaths of four crew members and friends, for Riley's near death. For Emile's near death and the shattering of a lifetime's reputation.
Of course, everyone blamed Emile for the Encounter. Except Riley. Sam Cassain's assessment of what had happened—his conviction that Emile had cut too many safety corners—wasn't enough for her. She needed hard evidence before she could damn her grandfather to the pits of hell. But she was in a distinct minority.
Emile wished her well and started back along the path up to his rustic cottage. Corea, Prospect Harbor, Winter Harbor, Schoodic Point. These were the places of her childhood, tucked onto a jagged, granite-bound peninsula, one of dozens that shaped and extended Maine's scenic coastline. Riley knew all its inlets, bays and coves. It was here she'd discovered her own love for the ocean, one that had nothing to do with being a Labreque or a St. Joe but only with being herself.
It was here, too, that she'd drawn blood in her one and only act of out-and-out violence, when she'd hurled a rock at John Straker. He was sixteen, she was twelve, and he'd deserved it. His own mother had said so as she'd handed him a dish towel for the blood and hauled him down to the doctor's office. He'd required six stitches to sew up the slit Riley had left above his right eye. She wondered if he'd had to explain the scar to the FBI. Amazing they'd let him in. Bonked on the head by a twelve-year-old. It couldn't bode well.
Now he'd been shot. Domestic terrorism. She grimaced. Well, she had no intention of letting a cranky, shot-up FBI agent ruin her picnic on her favorite island.
She slid her kayak into the incoming tide. Given the warm weather, she'd opted against a wet suit and wore her Tevas without socks. Maine water was never warm, but she'd be fine. Her shirt and drawstring pants were of a quick-drying fabric, and she'd filled two dry packs with all the essentials. One held her picnic lunch. The other held everything she might need if she got stranded for any reason: waterproof matches, rope, emergency thermal blanket that folded up into a tiny square, rations she'd eat only in an emergency, aluminum foil, portable first-aid kit, flashlight, compass, charts, whistle, marine band radio, extra water and her jackknife. And duct tape. She'd zipped an extra compass, matches and a water bottle into her life vest, in case she got separated from her kayak.
All in all, she deemed herself ready for anything, even a recuperating John Straker.
She laid her paddle across her kayak and walked into the ankle-deep water, which wasn't as cold as she'd expected. Maybe sixty-five degrees. Downright balmy for this stretch of Maine. She dropped into her seat, did her mental checklist and set off into deeper water, her strokes even and sure, all uneasiness gone. This was what she needed. A solo kayak trip in the clean, brisk Maine air, along the familiar rockbound coast with its evergreens, birches, wild blueberry bushes and summer cottages. The water was smooth, glasslike, the air so still she could hear the dipping of her paddle, the cry of gulls, the putter of distant lobster boats.
Yes, she thought. Emile was right. She needed to get back out on the water.
Two hours later, she was tired, hungry and exhilarated. A fog bank had formed on the eastern horizon, but she thought she'd be finished with her picnic and safely back at Emile's before it arrived. The swells and the wind had picked up on the ocean side of Labreque Island, but she worked with them, not against them, as she paddled parallel to shore, looking for a landing spot. The island was a mere five acres of sand, rock, pine, spruce and a few intrepid beeches and birches, all of which took a pounding from the North Atlantic winds, surf and storms. The ocean side had imposing rock ledges, and the water tended to be choppier—but Emile's ancient cottage, and thus John Straker, was on the bay side.
The waves pushed her toward shore. Despite the island's rugged appearance, its ecosystem was fragile, Riley knew. She wanted to find a spot that would provide a smooth landing for her and an unintrusive one for the island. Just an inch of lost soil could take hundreds of years to replace. A sandy beach was her first choice; next best was a sloping rock ledge.
She found a spot that would do. It wasn't great— little more than an indentation amid the steep rock cliffs and ledges and deep water swirling around huge granite boulders. The swells had picked up. If she capsized and bonked her head on a rock, she'd be seal food. This, she thought, was why one didn't kayak alone. She concentrated, maintaining her center of gravity. A tilt to the left or the right could turn her over, even in a stable ocean kayak. She maneuvered her vessel perpendicular to the shore and, with strong strokes, propelled it straight toward the rocks.
Rocks scraped the bottom of her kayak, and she jumped out, yelping at the sting of the much colder water. Moving fast, she dragged the craft up onto the rocks, not stopping until she was well above the tide line. She sat on a rounded boulder, warmed by the midday sun, to catch her breath. Despite the worrisome fog bank hovering on the horizon, the view was stunning, well worth the small risk of running into Special Agent Straker.
It was hard to think of him as an FBI agent. The John Straker she'd known had been intent on becoming a lobsterman or ajailbird. She'd never believed he'd leave Washington County. His parents still lived in the same house where his mother had grown up, a ramshackle place in the village. His father was a lobsterman. His grandfather had worked in the local sardine canneries.
At the thought of him lurking just a few acres through rock, trees and brush she began to set up her picnic: an early Mac, wild-blueberry muffins, cheddar cheese, two brownies and sparkling cider. Using her jackknife, she carved the apple into wedges and the cheese into thin slices, then layered the two.
Perfection, she thought, tasting the cheese and apple, smelling the sea and the pine needles and the barest hint of fall in the air. Seagulls cried in the distance, and trees and brush rustled in the breeze. Everything else fell away: the stress and trauma of the past year; the questions about herself, her family, her work, what she wanted, what she believed; the breakneck pace of her life in Boston. She was here, alone on an isolated island she'd first visited as a baby.
She was on her first brownie when she realized the fog bank had moved. She jumped to her feet. "No! I need more time!"
But the fog had begun its inexorable sweep inland, eating up ocean with its impenetrable depths of gray and white. Riley knew she couldn't get back to Emile's before it reached the bay. She paced on the rocks, cursing her own arrogance as she felt the temperature drop and the dampness seep into her bones. The mist and swirling fog quickly blanketed the water, then the rocks, then the island itself. Her world shrank, and she swore again, because she should have known better and skipped her island picnic.
"No use swearing," a voice said behind her. "Fog'll do what it'll do."
Riley swallowed a curse and came to an abrupt halt on her boulder. Straker. He materialized out of milky fog and white pines, exactly as she remembered him. Two bullets and his years as a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation hadn't changed him. He was still thickly built, tawny-haired, gray-eyed and annoying.
"You're the oceanographer," he said. "You should have known the fog'd get here before you could sneak off."
"I'm not clairvoyant."
Of course he'd know. He was the Maine native who knew everything. As if timing a fog bank were part of his genetic makeup. "Have you been spying on me?"
His eyes, as gray as the fog, settled on her. He didn't answer. His heavyweight charcoal sweater emphasized the strength and breadth of his powerful shoulders. He didn't look as if he'd been shot twice. He didn't, Riley thought, look as if he'd done anything with his life except fish the coast of downeast Maine. He looked strong, fit, at ease with his island environment—and not happy about having her in it. But wisely or unwisely, she'd never been afraid of John Straker.
"Well, Straker, if possible you're even worse than I remember."
"Fog could be here for hours. Days. It's going to get cold."
It was already cold. "I tried not to disturb you."
"I spotted you through my binoculars. You're hard to miss. You looked like you were paddling a pink detergent bottle."
"It's a bright color so boats will see it. Forest green and dark blue wouldn't stand out against the background of water and trees."
He narrowed his eyes, the only change in his expression. "No kidding."
He was making fun of her. No matter how much time she'd spent in Maine, how many degrees she had or what her experience—no matter how long he himself had stayed away—he was the local and she was the outsider. It was an old argument. He still had the scar on his right temple from one installment he'd lost.
"I thought Emile would warn you off. I'm not much company these days."
"Emile did warn me, and you've never been much company, Straker. Where were you shot?"
"Up near the Canadian border."
The man did try one's nerves. He always had, from as far back as she could remember. When she was six and he ten, he'd enjoyed jerking her chain. He jerked everyone's chain.
"Obviously your smart mouth's still intact," she stated.
"Everything's intact that's supposed to be intact." He squinted out at the fog and mist; there was no wind now, no birds crying near or far. "You could be here until morning. Have fun."
Naturally, he had no intention of inviting her back to the cottage to wait out the fog—and Riley would freeze to death before she asked. "I love the fog," she told him.
He vanished into the trees.
Meet the Author
Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including her popular Sharpe & Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 35 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, Carla lives with her family in New England. For more information, visit CarlaNeggers.com
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This book really was 'on fire'. It was the best out of the many books i read from other authors. i recommend this 2 neone looking 2 mystery, romance and suspence cuz this bookz got it all!!
I hope everyone enjoys this book as much as I. It was a great escapel.
This book was ok, in my opinion she has written better stories.