As a Category 3 hurricane bears down on Nantucket, Dionis Mather and her father have their work cut out for them. Their family business is to ferry goods and people back and forth from Tuckernuck, the private island off Nantucket’s western tip, a place so remote and exclusive that it is off the electric grid. As caretakers of the small plot of sand in the middle of the Atlantic, the Mathers are responsible for evacuating Tuckernuck’s residents, who range from a stubborn elderly native who refuses to leave her family home to the abandoned summer house pets of an absentee NFL quarterback. But as the storm surge rises and the surf warnings mount, Dionis has to make a choice: abandon whatever—or whoever—was left behind, or risk her own life by plunging back into the maelstrom. Even she has no idea what evil the hurricane is sheltering.
When the coast guard notifies the Nantucket police of a luxury yacht grounded in the shoals off Tuckernuck’s northern edge—with two shooting victims lying in the main cabin—detective Meredith Folger throws herself into an investigation before the hurricane sweeps all crime-scene evidence out to sea. Merry is supposed to be on leave this weekend, dancing at her own wedding, but the Cat 3 has thrown her blissful plans into chaos. As her battered house fills with stranded wedding guests and flood waters rise all over Nantucket Island, Merry has her own choice to make: How much should she risk in order to bring a criminal to justice?
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He hadn’t expected Ash that Saturday morning, hurrying down the weathered wooden pier in her rope-soled wedges and skinny jeans, a slouchy silk sweater slipping down to reveal one perfect shoulder. He hadn’t expected the way his stomach seized and his throat constricted at the sight of her blunt-cut brown hair, swinging glossily just below her chin, or the stab of pain when her eyes slid past him and widened happily at the sight of Matt on the main deck. It was Matt she waved to, not him; Matt who took control, leaping to the stern to extend a hand for Ashley’s canvas tote and her rolling overnight bag.
“Welcome aboard,” Matt said, teeth flashing in his tanned face. It might have been a beer commercial, the gorgeous girl stepping onto the three-million-dollar yacht and into the arms of the hunk with money to burn. In a second, the guitars would crash and the camera would switch to the pair of them high in a hot-air balloon, fingers hooked around longnecks. Or a rave on a tropic beach under the stars, both of them barefoot in the sand.
—While he stood paralyzed, the third wheel, his mind racing in search of a way out. Staring dumbly at Ash, the unforeseen complication. Which is what she’d always been.
“I thought you had to work today,” he attempted. “I thought you were on the weekend schedule.”
“Jen offered to cover,” she said simply, and turned to grin at Matt. “What fool would pass up an invitation like this?”
“This” being Shytown, a Hatteras M75 Panacera, complete with an elegant main cabin seating area, state-of-the-art galley, and a lower deck fitted with staterooms for eight. Which he and Matt intended to power up the coast from its Long Island slip to Martha’s Vineyard and then Provincetown over the next week, stopping at Block Island along the way.
He watched Ashley drop her canvas bag on the stern lounge and hug Matt. Matt’s hands skimmed her hips. A halo of midafternoon sun seemed to bind them, the kind of light that always blurred his vision when Ash appeared.
Could this get any worse?
“Somebody needs a drink.” Matt was smiling into Ash’s eyes as though she hadn’t screwed up their plans entirely. Had he invited her knowing she was scheduled to work, and assumed she’d say no? Or had he been drunk when he asked?
“Follow me.” Matt grabbed Ash’s suitcase and ducked down the gangway that led to the lower deck. “We’ll stow your stuff in the aft stateroom. It’s the largest.”
Matt’s stateroom, of course. Would he be moving to a guest cabin? Unclear. He’d probably wait and see how the day went. How easily the steaks and lobster tails sizzling on the Weber grill, the endless vault of stars overhead and the reggae on Shytown’s expensive sound system, persuaded Ashley to share her mattress.
Cursing under his breath, he moved forward to the bow and began to loosen the mooring hitch, glancing as he did so at the horizon. Clear as glass. The swells were gentle. A slight breeze caressed his cheek. Unbelievably gorgeous weather, in fact, for late September. Matt always expected him to plot their course well in advance for these runs, building in options for alternative stops and routes, which meant studying not only charts and GPS but checking the NOAA weather forecasts, and calculating what all of it might mean for Shytown’s schedule over the next several days.
Because Matt trusted him like blood.
He’d earned that trust over the past year. And he’d done his homework for the coming week. Then he’d carefully arranged his lies.
“Hey, man!” Matt yelled from the flybridge. “We good?”
“Aye, aye,” he called back, coiling the mooring line on the deck cleat. The twin diesel engines purred to life. In a matter of seconds, Shytown slid cleanly out of the marina slip and headed for the channel.
Ashley joined him, a salt-rimmed margarita glass in her hand. “Want one? There’s a whole pitcher.”
“Not when I’m crewing, Ash.”
She pecked him on the cheek. “You’re so responsible. This boat is fabulous. Like something out of a movie.”
“Indeed it is,” he agreed.
And promised himself he’d keep her alive.
Dionis Mather pulled the hood of her oil-stained gray sweatshirt over her tousled black ponytail. The wind was rising off Madaket Harbor and the temperature falling as five o’clock closed in. Gooseflesh rose on her bare calves. She huddled on the seat of her beat-up fiberglass work skiff and vigorously rubbed the chilled skin her cutoffs had left exposed.
It had been sunny and hot during the multiple runs she’d made that day to Tuckernuck, the small island trailing like an afterthought off the western end of Nantucket Island. She’d rejoiced in the wind and salt spray that ripped past the gunwales of the boat, because it felt like summer on the water—without the dense traffic of Summer People. There was all the bliss of the deep emerald sea arrowing from the bow and the curve of Nantucket’s western shoreline, the throttle under her palm and the narrow black band of Tuckernuck coming up on the horizon. Not another craft in sight. Until the clouds rolled in, Dionis had been happy.
She and her dad, Jack Mather, ran a family business that kept them plying the waters between the two islands for at least six months each year. Tuckernuck was a private place off the electrical and cyber grid. There were no paved roads, no market, no bar or restaurant, not even a beachside kiosk selling coffee. No clam shack, no gas station, no place to buy suntan lotion or a boxed lunch or rent a beach chair—and only a handful of ancient cars with their noses tipped into the dunes. Cell phone coverage was sporadic, and internet nonexistent. What Tuckernuck did offer was roughly 900 acres of gloriously pristine beaches, ocean views, and moorland, privately owned by the families who’d built its houses. Some of those houses were brand new, and some of them were centuries old. None of the folks who’d inherited Tuck’s isolation and privilege lived on the island past mid-October, and only a few owned boats for independence.
The rest relied on Dionis and Jack Mather—Tuckernuck caretakers—for almost everything they needed to survive: deliveries of milk, fresh produce, and bread. Packages from the Nantucket post office; toilet paper and kerosene for storm lamps; lawn mowers, for those indulgent enough to lay sod in front of their ancient saltboxes; sod brought over on the Mathers’ construction barge. Batteries; cases of wine, vodka, and beer; bottled water. Steak. Salad dressing. Playing cards. Roof shingles, and panes of glass for replacing broken windows. I-beams and insulation for new additions. Dog food and trash bags. Solar panels, for those who disdain propane generators. Propane, for those who mistrust solar. Down comforters. Citronella candles and insect repellant. Outdoor table umbrellas and rose secateurs. Guests and their baggage—both physical and spiritual—delivered by golf cart from the Tuckernuck Lagoon’s dock. Sometimes the Mathers even ferried medical technicians from Nantucket, to evacuate the sick to Cottage Hospital.
Today, on a Sunday at the tail end of September, only a few of Tuckernuck’s houses were still inhabited. Dionis and Jack had been doing mostly end-of-season maintenance runs. Pulling garbage. Tidying flower beds. Draining the plumbing systems of the houses already vacated for the winter, so that pipes did not freeze and burst. Easy work, in Dionis’s estimation, after the craziness of July and August.
But now she was cold and the transient happiness of sun on water had fled from her veins. Her muscles were sore. She wanted a beer. And her father was late picking her up at Jackson Point.
The sound of a truck engine drew her head around. Dionis rose to her feet, following the battered Dodge Ram with narrowed eyes as it lurched past the entrance to the Jackson Point lot and came further on, swaying to a halt at the boat landing’s edge.
Her father jumped out, leaving the driver’s side door open. “Hey,” he said. “Let me give you a hand.”
She was already lifting some of the knotted plastic bags of garbage from the belly of the work skiff, swinging them toward Jack, who grunted as he hoisted them into his truck’s flatbed. A week’s worth of trash—some of it the unholy detritus that surfaced at the end of the season—had to be delivered to Nantucket’s public waste and recycling center. The bags were already sorted and separated by garbage type: compost, landfill, plastic, and glass. This was the third load Dionis had brought across Madaket Harbor today.
“Temperature’s dropped,” she observed.
Jack scanned the sea, noting the freshening chop. Crow’s feet tightened at the corners of his faded blue eyes. “Nor’easter in the forecast.”
“You’re kidding.” Dionis frowned. “It’s way too early in the season, Dad.”
“Climate change.” Her father shrugged. “Sea’s getting warmer, weather’s getting weirder. Seasons don’t mean anything now, you know that.”
She hoisted the last bag of trash and glanced over her shoulder, toward the town of Nantucket some six miles to the east. Its gray-shingled landscape was impossible to pick out beyond the clutter of new buildings on the Madaket shoreline. But the sky was still relatively clear in that direction.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” she said skeptically.
“You do that.” Jack grinned at her. “Nothing’s like it used to be. Remember the polar vortex?”
Involuntarily, Dionis shivered. The previous winter had been brutal. Madaket Harbor froze solid between Jackson Point and Tuckernuck, the ice wave reaching so far inland on the Nantucket shore it had swamped the thresholds of houses. It was true; everything seemed more volatile these days, more extreme. But nor’easters usually didn’t hit until well into fall.
“They say there’s a chance this one misses us,” her father added as she joined him in the cab of the truck.