When Carol Ann “CJ” Jansen lost her beloved older brother, Kick, in a boating accident, she came adrift. Kick had taken on the role of caring for his little sister after their parents were killed in a car crash. Inheriting half his fortune has left CJ financially secure—yet needing a purpose. As administrative assistant to powerful congressman Snapper Lewis, she’s immersed herself in the exciting and often tumultuous world of politics.
But suddenly, the career that anchors her life is threatened. CJ stumbles upon information that could implicate her boss in corruption. When the congressman dies of an apparent suicide, the closer CJ gets to uncovering the truth, exposing one shocking secret after another, the more she wonders if she’s also in jeopardy.
Moving to a small New England town for her own protection, CJ gradually begins to engage with her new surroundings. Her blossoming friendship with the owner of a charter fishing boat offers the promise of much more. But before she can claim happiness, CJ must navigate a course through all her doubts and fears, and trust that this time, the water that took so much from her might just lead her safely home . . .
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About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
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Thirty-four-year-old Carol Anne Jansen — also known as CJ to her friends and colleagues — checked her running belt to make sure she had everything she needed for her jog along the Tidal Basin. One couldn't leave anything to chance with all the tourists, crazies, and government employees out for their daily run. Any and all manner of things could go wrong. Even in broad daylight. This was, after all, the nation's capital. And it was also an early spring break for most schools, which meant that there were twice as many tourists and crazies about.
She double-checked that she had her driver's license, which featured a picture of her round face, light brown hair that hung down to her shoulders, blue eyes — that sparkled in the sunlight, if not in the photograph — up-tilted eyebrows, narrow mouth, and tiny nose. She also had her government ID that said she worked for Congressman Otto "Snapper" Lewis, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, her lone credit card, and fifty dollars. She never carried more than fifty dollars for fear of having to hand it over to some thug. She was good to go. She zipped up the running belt, wrapped it around her waist, and slapped on her Fitbit.
CJ glanced over her shoulder to make sure her computer was in sleep mode. Check. Desk lamp off. Check. Desk drawers locked. Check.
The little digital clock on her desk said it was 5:10. It had been a light workday, which had allowed for the late-afternoon run. Congressman Lewis had told her she could leave even earlier, but she had declined to do so because she was conscientious to a fault. She thought about how insistent he'd been lately and wondered why, but in the end she shrugged it off as just another one of Snapper's quirks.
Satisfied that everything was in order, she opened the door to Snapper's office, and called out, "I'm leaving, boss. Unless you need me to do something." Not bothering to wait for a response, CJ rattled on. "Remember, you need to be on time this evening for that black-tie dinner at the Armory. And I'm going to be late in the morning because I have an early appointment." CJ had an appointment with her therapist, whom she had been seeing ever since her brother, Kick, had died four years ago.
"Got it. Have a nice night, CJ."
He really doesn't sound right, CJ thought to herself. "Is something wrong, boss? You sound, I don't know, distracted? I know how you hate those dinners, but you can split after an hour. In fact, you should be leaving for the dinner now."
"I will, but I'm waiting for a phone call. Run along, CJ."
CJ chewed on her lower lip. He was waiting for a phone call? Snapper Lewis never waited for a phone call. He was the one who made the calls, and if you didn't pick up, you didn't get a second call. Weird.
"Okay, but be sure to log it in when it comes through. I don't need a ton of paperwork to chase down some dry cleaner calling to remind you to pick up your tux." It was all said in a joking manner in the hopes her boss would tell her who was calling. Nothing. It didn't work.
"Go already!" Congressman Lewis barked.
"Okay, okay, I'm gone. Be sure to turn out all the lights and lock your desk and the door."
"Yes, Mother," he drawled, but CJ picked up the hint of anger in his voice. It was definitely time to leave.
Outside the office, CJ debated taking the elevator or the stairs. She was a health nut, so she opted for the stairs. She pulled at the heavy door and whizzed through it just as the elevator door opened. An unfamiliar scent wafted her way. Wow, she thought, someone took a bath in some crappy cologne that must have come in gallon jugs. She sniffed several times, hoping to get the abominable scent out of her nostrils.
Once she was in the parking garage, she headed to where she'd parked her ten-year-old Nissan Sentra and climbed in. The ride to the Tidal Basin wouldn't take that long; she'd run for forty minutes, then head home. The engine coughed and sputtered to life. She really needed to get a new car. Maybe a new used one. She put it on her to-do list and was about to shift from park to reverse when she remembered something that hit her like a whack to the side of her head. "Oh crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!" She had forgotten to leave the report the congressman was going to need for his 7:00 A.M. meeting. And he didn't have the keys to her desk. Banging her hands on the steering wheel, she knew she had to go back. "Hell! Well, maybe you'll start up when I get back!" she yelled at her lump of a junkmobile.
CJ hauled herself out of the car and ran back into the Rayburn House Office Building, in which she had toiled since the day she'd got out of college, twelve years ago. Twelve years. And all of them for Otto "Snapper" Lewis. There were people who said she was almost as powerful as Snapper, but she always pooh-poohed the idea. People were always trying to curry favor with the congressman and tried to get to him through her. It was a fruitless endeavor since she protected him against any and all such attempts. She was the proverbial brick wall against those he did not want to deal with. It was her job to both protect her boss and oversee the workings of his office. She wasn't sure, but she did think that she'd probably stop short of taking a bullet for him.
Because she was in good physical shape, she was able to take the stairs two at a time. When she arrived at the door that led to the hallway, her heart was pumping at the pace of a good workout. She frowned when she got a whiff of the same foul odor she'd encountered earlier. Once she opened the door, the scent was so overwhelming that she gagged. The hallway smelled like a funeral home filled with too many flowers that had begun to rot.
CJ had her key in hand when she realized that the light was on in the congressman's office, which brought a frown to her face. Surely, his call must have come through by now. Rather than risk his wrath, pretended or otherwise, she walked around the corner to the second entrance to the suite and let herself into her own office, which was adjacent to his. If she was very quiet and didn't make any noise, she could be in and out, do what she had to do, and good old Snapper would never know she'd almost screwed up.
The moment she opened the door, however, she knew something was wrong. While she couldn't hear exactly what was being said, the tone of the loud voices was high-pitched and very ugly. She caught a word here and there. She stood still, uncertain what to do. Her inner self, which she relied on daily, told her to move her feet and get the hell out. Instead, she quietly advanced inside and walked over to her desk, which was in the middle of the room. Whatever was going on in the congressman's office was none of her business. It was after hours, so he was on his own. She kept trying to convince herself not to pay attention to what was transpiring in the other room.
CJ did what she had come to do. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out the bright yellow folder sitting on top. Snapper liked everything in yellow folders with bright green tabs. No other color. Just bright green tabs. It was another one of his many quirks. She centered it on her desk, relocked the drawer, and turned to leave. And that was when her leg hit the metal trash can next to her desk. She held back the desire to utter an expletive, and this time she paid attention to her inner self, which was warning her to hide.
Acting accordingly, she dropped down under her desk just as the door connecting her office to Congressman Lewis's opened. CJ sucked in her breath. The smell of cologne was so powerful, she thought she was going to gag, or even worse, sneeze.
"There's no one here. I told you my chief of staff left half an hour ago. I saw her leave. No one gets into the building after hours. Maybe you need to get your hearing checked, because I didn't hear anything. This is an old building; sounds carry through the vents. Maybe what you think you heard is coming from the night cleaning crew. Can we just get this over with? I have a dinner I have to attend this evening. Well?" Snapper snarled as he marched back to his own office.
CJ waited, hardly daring to breathe. Would Mr. Crappy Cologne follow her boss's instructions or decide to investigate further? Ten seconds, twenty seconds. Then footsteps. But the door connecting the offices still did not close. And now she could hear them more clearly.
CJ strained to hear what the two men were saying. Whatever it was, they were not friends — of that she was absolutely certain. Snapper always treated people with respect, even those he wasn't fond of. Not this man. She could hear the hate in his voice.
"You know what you have to do. I hope I don't have to come back here again," Mr. Crappy Cologne said in a menacing tone of voice.
CJ continued to listen, hearing things that made no sense. What did make sense to her was that Mr. Crappy Cologne was threatening her boss. She heard words like "Robotron" and "getting it done pronto!" What exactly was Robotron? The name sounded familiar. She knew she'd heard it recently but could not recall where and in exactly what context. What was it?
"Just get the hell out of my office. Now!"
CJ almost jumped out of her skin when she heard the next sound. She didn't have to see the action to know that her boss had just gotten kicked in the groin. "Don't you ever make the mistake of telling me what to do again. Tell me you understand what I just said. And then tell me you're sorry," Mr. Crappy Cologne growled, demanding that Snapper demean himself with an apology.
CJ waited, hardly daring to breathe. "I understand. I'm ... I'm sss ... sorry," Snapper finally responded, gasping for air. CJ could hardly believe her ears. One of the most powerful men on Capitol Hill, in the country, apologizing to the man who had just pounded him to the floor. She moved slightly, so she could peek out of her hidey-hole. Directly in her line of vision she could see her boss writhing on the floor in the fetal position as he struggled to catch his breath.
After the man who had assaulted the congressman left, CJ wanted to go to her boss's aid, but her inner-self voice warned her against making such a move. Better to wait it out. In all twelve years of working for Snapper Lewis in the Rayburn House Office Building, first as a low-level aide and now as his chief of staff, this was the first time she felt as if she were swimming in deep, uncharted waters. So she leaned back and waited until she could leave without being noticed.
Finally, sounds coming from the outer office told her that Snapper was off the floor and tidying up his desk, all the time making low, groaning sounds with every move he made. She could hear him shuffling about as he packed up his briefcase. Her instincts and common sense told her he wasn't going to make the black-tie dinner that would be starting within the hour.
Finally, the lights went out, and the door to the hallway opened, then closed. CJ literally exploded from under her desk and ran into Snapper's office. It looked just the way it always looked, but it smelled terrible.
What to do? Go home of course. Take the stairs. Go slow. Make sure Snapper had left the entire area before she went back into the parking garage and hit the highway. It was lucky that his spot in the garage was nowhere near hers, so he would not see that her car was still there. She forced herself to wait ten more minutes before she exited through her own office door. Then she used up another ten minutes taking the stairs to the garage in the basement. She cursed under her breath because now she was right in the middle of rush-hour traffic.
Climbing back into her car, she hissed, "You better start up right now or off to the junkyard you go!" As if the car understood her threat, it turned over immediately. Huh. I should try that trick every time I get into this thing. At least something was finally going right.
Forty minutes later, the Nissan Sentra made a right turn onto the street where she lived. The traffic had been brutal. She pushed the button to open the security gate, pulled into the driveway, and stopped for a few minutes before she popped the garage door open. Every day that she lived in this house, she did the exact same thing. The deed said it was her house but she had never felt like it was hers. It had belonged to her older brother, Kick, and his life partner, Colin Kelly.
This particular house was one of the biggest, most prestigious custom-built houses in all of Kalorama, matching the elegance and historic themes of the neighborhood. She had interesting neighbors, including some of the country's highest-profile politicians and their offspring. But that merely made her feel more isolated. Not that she cared a twit about her neighbors, the house's architecture, or its furnishings, as opulent as they were. She'd give it all up in a heartbeat to have her brother Kick back in her life, so she wouldn't feel like an orphan.
When CJ was ten years old, she had been on an overnight Girl Scout camping trip when their parents died in a fiery car wreck on the way home from a yachting regatta. Kick had blamed himself because he had been racing that day. Why had he insisted that they come for the festivities? He had been racing for several years and was finally confident enough in his skills to have his family on hand. After the accident, he was guilt-ridden and took over parenting his sister. Kick had raised her, and she, in turn, had loved and adored him.
Kick was whip-smart, and by the time he, too, had been taken from her in a boat-related accident, he and Colin Kelly owned a string of sixty-four restaurants. The chain was called KC's Hatchery.
"How bizarre," she would often think. Her parents were killed coming home from a boating party and her brother was killed in a boating accident almost twenty years to the day later. She wasn't sure if she could go near the water ever again. Even jogging along the Tidal Basin gave her the willies at times.
When their parents died, it had become local gossip that the Jansens had no money. The high life of social galas, together with conspicuous overspending, had taken its toll on the family finances. The Jansens should have downsized years before they died, but CJ's mother was all about "what people thought," and the embarrassment would have killed her.
At the time of their parents' death, Kick had already graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and had just gotten his MBA from Wharton. He was the "it" boy of up-and-coming restaurateurs in the DC area when his parents were killed. A life insurance policy was all that remained of their estate; their impersonation of the upper-middle-class wealthy had left them with virtually nothing else. Even their house was mortgaged to the hilt. Kick was able to use the insurance money to support CJ — at least until he could get more backing for his restaurant enterprise. One of the first people to pony up investment money was Colin Kelly, who became Kick's partner in KC's Hatchery and, eventually, his life partner.
CJ had inherited everything except for one piece of property that Colin kept — a cabin near Salisbury on the eastern shore of Maryland. Colin and Kick would spend weekends there when they wanted to get away from all the glitz and social climbers. The Wallet Sniffers. People who always had their hand out, looking for a loan or presenting a new business proposition that needed financing. Colin and Kick were great partners, in life and business. Kick knew how to run a restaurant, and Colin knew the business side. Investing was second nature to Colin, and his skill at dealing with people was equally impressive.
After Kick's death, when the property had been settled and the will read, CJ saw — for the first time — the brokerage accounts that were now hers. They were so robust that she almost got dizzy just looking at the bottom line. She had wanted Colin to take all of Kick's estate, but he absolutely refused. He didn't want the house or Kick's half of KC's Hatchery; he didn't want the Italian sports cars in the garage. He didn't want the Aspen ski chalet or the estate in Hawaii that Kick had purchased from his share of the profits. The cabin was the only thing that gave Colin the very personal and intimate connection with Kick that he wished to maintain even after Kick's death.
In spite of all the restaurants, it was the cabin that Colin and Kick had been the most proud of, a place to which they could retreat away from the prying eyes of the public. It was something they had literally built — together. Each weekend for years, they would go to Home Depot and load up their supersized pickup truck and head out.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Deep Harbor"
Copyright © 2019 Fern Michaels.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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