Pull up a lounge chair and have a cocktail at Sunset Beach – it comes with a twist.
Drue Campbell’s life is adrift. Out of a job and down on her luck, life doesn’t seem to be getting any better when her estranged father, Brice Campbell, a flamboyant personal injury attorney, shows up at her mother’s funeral after a twenty-year absence. Worse, he’s remarried – to Drue’s eighth grade frenemy, Wendy, now his office manager. And they’re offering her a job.
It seems like the job from hell, but the offer is sweetened by the news of her inheritance – her grandparents’ beach bungalow in the sleepy town of Sunset Beach, a charming but storm-damaged eyesore now surrounded by waterfront McMansions.
With no other prospects, Drue begrudgingly joins the firm, spending her days screening out the grifters whose phone calls flood the law office. Working with Wendy is no picnic either. But when a suspicious death at an exclusive beach resort nearby exposes possible corruption at her father’s firm, she goes from unwilling cubicle rat to unwitting investigator, and is drawn into a case that may – or may not – involve her father.
With an office romance building, a decades-old missing persons case re-opened, and a cottage in rehab, one thing is for sure at Sunset Beach: there’s a storm on the horizon.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.90(w) x 4.70(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 27, 1954
Place of Birth:Tampa, Florida
Education:B.A. in newspaper journalism, University of Georgia, 1976
Read an Excerpt
Sunset Beach, April 2018
Drue turned the key in the ignition and the white Bronco's engine gave a dispirited cough, and then nothing.
"Come on, OJ," Drue muttered, trying again. This time the engine turned over. She gave it some gas and the motor roared to life.
"Thanks, babe." She gave the cracked vinyl dashboard an encouraging pat, then shifted into reverse and eased her foot onto the accelerator. The motor gave a strangled wheeze and cut off again. Now every single indicator on the control panel began blinking red.
She tried again, but the third time was not the charm. The engine caught briefly, the Bronco's battered chassis shuddered, then fell still.
"Noooooo," she moaned.
She glanced down at her watch. She now had fifteen minutes to get downtown to work. "No way," she muttered.
Back when life was good, when she was living in Fort Lauderdale, she would have taken an Uber or called a friend for a lift when the 1995 Bronco she'd bought off Craigslist was having what Drue thought of as PMS. But she hadn't exactly had time to make friends since moving back to Florida's west coast, and she no longer had a viable credit card for Uber, or even viable credit, for that matter.
Drue had a vague memory of seeing city buses lumbering past on nearby Gulf Boulevard. She pulled her phone from her backpack, found the transit authority website and schedule, and determined that with any luck, she just might catch a bus that might get her to the downtown St. Petersburg offices of Campbell, Coxe and Kramner in the next thirty minutes. Which would make her late for her first day of work.
She started walking. It was barely eight-thirty, and only April, but the temperature already hovered in the mid-eighties, and within two blocks of leaving her house, her cotton tank top was damp with perspiration and her right knee was throbbing.
Shit. She should have gone back to the house and put on the tight elastic brace the surgeon had given her. In fact, should have been wearing it anyway, even if she hadn't had to walk five blocks. But the damn thing was so hot. The elastic chafed her skin and gave her a rash, so she left it at home more times than she wore it.
Drue gritted her teeth against the pain and kept walking. She was on Gulf Boulevard now, the busy north–south thoroughfare that threaded through all the tiny beach towns before eventually making a sharp right turn at Treasure Island Causeway, heading east toward downtown St. Pete. A clutch of giggling teenage girls, spring breakers, probably, dressed in bikini tops and microscopic neon-bright shorts with the waistbands rolled down to their navels, approached on the sidewalk, headed in the opposite direction, and made an elaborate show of sidestepping her.
She heard a quavery voice behind her.
"Excuse me, darling." She turned her head to see an elderly man, his bony bare chest glistening with sweat, power past, pumping small dumbbells in each hand.
She squinted and saw, just half a block ahead, the shaded bus shelter. Thank God. She wasn't sure if she could walk much farther. Half a block, though. That, she could do. She picked up the pace, trying to ignore the red-hot stabbing pain in her knee.
Briiiing, briiinnng, a bike's bell and then a booming woman's voice: "On your left!"
She stumbled over her flip-flop and toppled onto the grassy verge just in time to avoid being mowed down by a white-haired octogenarian wearing wraparound sunglasses and a Tampa Bay Rays sun visor furiously pedaling past on an adult tricycle.
"Hey!" Drue yelled after her. "Get on the bike path."
"Up yours," the woman called, turning around briefly to flip her the bird.
As she struggled to her feet, she saw, almost in slow motion, the city bus passing her by. She winced in pain, but also at the ad emblazoned along the side of the bus.
SLIP AND FALL? GIVE BRICE A CALL! The ad was accompanied by a five-foot-tall airbrush-enhanced color portrait of W. Brice Campbell, arms crossed defiantly, his chiseled chin jutting pugnaciously, a stance Drue knew all too well.
The bus slowed momentarily at the bus stop. The air brakes whooshed. "Stay there," Drue muttered. "Stay right there." She broke into her current version of a run, a lopsided, sorry, limping affair.
A young Hispanic woman stepped off the bus, turned, and waved goodbye to the driver.
"Hey," Drue yelled breathlessly, closing the gap, now maybe only three bus-lengths away. She waved her arms over her head. "Hey!"
The woman turned and gave the stranger a hesitant smile. "Hey."
The bus's brakes whooshed again and it started to move.
"Tell him to stop," Drue cried. "Tell him to wait."
But it was too late. The bus picked up speed. It moved on. The woman stood by the bus shelter. She was dressed in a gray and white uniform smock, her name, Sonia, embroidered above her left breast.
"Sorry," she said softly, as Drue approached, limping badly. "Are you okay?"
Drue grasped the back of the bench as she tried to regain her breath. The bench was painted blue and white, with the Campbell, Coxe and Kramner signature logo superimposed across Brice Campbell's visage. HAVE A WRECK? WE'LL GET YOUR CHECK!
"No," Drue managed, as she collapsed onto the bench. She jumped up immediately, gingerly extracting a half-inch wood splinter protruding from her right butt cheek. "No. Definitely. Not. Okay." She looked down at the screen-printed face of Brice W. Campbell. Her new boss. Her long-lost father, and as always, a major pain in the ass.
* * *
A job in his law firm had been the very last thing Drue had wanted from her long-estranged father. But what choice did she have? That five-second midair kiteboard collision three months earlier, and her mother's subsequent death, only reinforced the fact that she no longer had any reason to stay in Fort Lauderdale.
Drue had been adrift, self-medicating with tequila and Advil and wallowing in self-pity on the day of her mother's funeral. As she was leaving the memorial service, with the bronze urn containing Sherri's remains tucked under her arm, she'd been shocked to spot a well-dressed businessman standing uneasily at the back of the church.
At first, she wasn't even absolutely sure it was really him. His hair was longer, touching the collar of his open-neck shirt, and flecked with silver. He was tanned and slim, and in his expensive tailored blazer and sockless Gucci loafers looked distinctly out of place in the former fast-food restaurant turned Fortress for All Faiths Chapel of Prayer.
She approached him warily. "Dad?"
"Hi," he'd said softly, giving her an awkward hug.
She'd endured the embrace with what she thought was admirable forbearance.
"What are you doing here?"
He shifted from one foot to the other. "Why wouldn't I be here?"
"I mean, how did you know? That Mom died? I didn't even put an obituary in the paper until today."
"Sherri called me. To tell me she was sick. And I asked the hospice people to let me know ... when it happened." He glanced around the church, which was nearly empty now. "Look, can we go somewhere else to talk about this?"
"Like where?" Drue wasn't about to let him off that easy. Twenty years ago, he'd shipped his sullen teenage daughter across Florida, from St. Pete back here to Lauderdale, choosing peace with his second wife and her obnoxious sons over loyalty to his only daughter. He'd dutifully sent the birthday cards and child support checks right up until her eighteenth birthday, but she hadn't laid eyes on him since that boiling hot summer afternoon so long ago. She wasn't about to let him waltz in here today and play the grieving dad and ex-spouse.
"I thought maybe we could go to lunch somewhere." His blue-gray eyes took in her frumpy black dress, the only remotely funeral-ready dress she owned, and the too-large black pumps, which she'd appropriated from Sherri's closet.
He let out a long, aggravated sigh. "Why? Because your mom is gone and I'm now your only living relative. And because there are some business matters we need to discuss. Okay? Can you just cut me some slack and go to lunch? Or do you really need to keep busting my balls for the rest of my life?"
She shrugged. "I guess I could do lunch. Where do you want to go?"
"I heard there's a bistro on Las Olas that has great mussels."
"Taverna." Why was she not surprised that he'd chosen the most exclusive, expensive restaurant in town?
Outside, in the parking lot, Brice pointed a key fob at a black Mercedes sedan and clicked it. Drue went to the backseat and opened the door.
He stood by the driver's side, looking puzzled. "You're getting in the backseat?"
"No," Drue said, carefully stretching the seat belt across the bronze urn. "Mom is."
* * *
When the waitress brought their drinks Drue knocked back half her margarita in one gulp.
Brice sipped his martini and rearranged the silverware on the tabletop.
"Can I ask you something without your getting pissed at me?"
He pointed at her right leg, with the knee ensconced in the hideous brace.
"What happened there?"
"I had a kiteboarding accident. Right after Mom got diagnosed."
"So you're still into that? Guess it wasn't a phase after all, huh?" Kiteboarding had been a major source of friction between Drue and Brice and her stepmother. Joan had objected to the cost of her board and kite (although it was money Drue earned from working at a surf shop), her kiteboarding friends (an admittedly motley-looking crew) and, especially, her obsession with the sport — to the detriment of her already mediocre grades.
Drue chewed the inside of her cheek. "Definitely not a phase. How is Joan, by the way?"
He picked the olive from his drink, chewed, and smiled bitterly. "Let's see. She soaked me for a waterfront house, a new car and attorney's fees to keep both Kyler and Kayson out of prison. Last I heard she'd moved up the marital food chain and married an orthopedic surgeon. So, I'd say she's doing great."
"So you two split up? Sorry to hear that."
He sipped his martini. "No, you're not."
"That's true. She never liked me, and the feeling was mutual."
He started to say something, stopped, shook his head and took another sip of his martini.
"You said you had some business to discuss with me?" Drue prompted.
"That's right." He reached into the inside pocket of his blazer and brought out a key ring with a tacky pink plastic flamingo fob. Two keys dangled from the ring. He slid the key ring across the table toward his daughter.
"It's the key to Coquina Cottage."
"Nonni and Papi's house? The old place on Sunset Beach? I thought Mom sold it after Nonni died."
"She almost did, but in the end, she decided to keep it. I think maybe she thought one day the two of you would move back and live there. Anyway, it's yours now."
Drue picked up the key ring and turned it over and over. "You're serious? For real? Like, I own Papi's cottage?"
"You do," Brice said. "Before you get too excited, though, I should warn you it's in pretty rough shape. The last tenant lived there for six or seven years, and he was kind of a hoarder. He always paid his rent on time and never had any complaints about the place, so I sort of let things slide. It wasn't until last year, after the hurricane damaged the roof and the old guy moved out, that we realized how bad things had gotten."
Drue's eyes filled with unexpected tears. "Mom never said a word. All those years, she drove crappy secondhand cars and we lived in shithole apartments. She could have sold that place — it's right on the Gulf, right? I bet it was worth a lot of money. I can't believe she hung on to Papi's house."
"Your mom was never the sentimental type, as you know, but I think she regarded the cottage as her legacy to you. It was the one thing of value in her life. Well, that and her daughter."
Not trusting herself to speak, Drue could only stare down at the keys.
"What are your plans now?" Brice asked.
"I don't know," she admitted. "Things are kind of up in the air right now."
"Sherri said you've been waitressing at a bar?"
His raised eyebrow spoke volumes.
"And ... no romantic ties keeping you here in Fort Lauderdale?"
She scowled. Since Trey, her faithless boyfriend, had been a no-show at the funeral, she'd already relegated him to ex-boyfriend status. "Are you deliberately gloating over the fact that I'm thirty-six and have a shitty job and no life?"
He raised his hands in surrender. "I was going to offer you a job, but obviously that's a deeply offensive move on my part."
"A job? Doing what?"
"Working at the law firm. We've affiliated with half a dozen boutique personal injury firms in the Southeast in the past year. Business is crazy good. Another firm in town just poached my most senior intake associate. I'm really shorthanded."
"No thanks," Drue said firmly. "I have no interest in moving back to St. Pete and zero interest in the law."
"You mean, zero interest in working for me."
Her eyes met his. "That too. Sorry. I mean, I appreciate the offer. And your coming over for Mom's funeral. And letting me know about the cottage. Thanks. I really mean it." She looked down at her watch. "Can you get the check now? I've got to work tonight."
He let out a long sigh. "You're as goddamn stubborn as she was. More, even."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Drue said.CHAPTER 2
It was her first night back at work since the surgery, and it was also two-dollar well drink night at Bozo's on the Beach. As luck would have it, the first person she saw as she was clocking in was Rick, the assistant night manager.
Prick, as most of the servers called him behind his back, was all of twenty-five years old and the owner's nephew, and roundly despised by the entire Bozo's staff, right down to the youngest high school busboy. He was just over five feet two, with a weirdly long over-muscled torso, rounded shoulders and short legs, which gave him the appearance of an orangutan in cargo shorts.
"Hey," he said, giving her a curt nod. "I see you're back."
"I am," she said, smiling brightly. "Thanks for letting me take a shift. I was going stir crazy sitting at home on the sofa."
He looked her up and down and frowned, noting the form-fitting orange tank top with the bar's clown logo and the ripped and faded jeans she wore instead of the hated mandatory Bozo's booty shorts. "You're out of uniform."
"Yeah," she said. "The thing is, I have to wear this big ugly knee brace,and it looks super freaky with the shorts. I'm wearing the top and I swear, nobody will even notice."
"That's not the point," he snapped. "It's a uniform because I want all the girls to look alike — hot. Those jeans don't look hot. They look ghetto." He ducked into the closet-size office, came out with a pair of the microscopic white knit shorts and tossed them to her. "Here. You can change before you go on shift."
Kaitlin, the lead bartender, came bustling into the kitchen. "Welcome back, girlfriend," she said, giving Drue a high five. "Now get your ass out there. Courtney's back in rehab and Shanelle called in pissed off, so we're short two girls tonight and the natives are restless."
Drue hustled out of the kitchen in her wake, turning to look over her shoulder at Rick. "Sorry. Duty calls."
* * *
Old-school rap music blared from the wall-mounted speakers and the Thirsty Thursday crowd was, as Kaitlin had warned, loud and demanding. The sprawling room was packed, the noise level ear-splitting.
"What's going on?" Drue asked, placing her lips beside Kaitlin's ear.
"Do you have to ask? Look around."
Drue estimated the average age in the room at 19.2 years. College kids, sunburned, buzzed and looking for fun in the Florida sun. She knew what that meant. Crappy tips and plenty of customers who thought dine and dash was an intramural sport. "Spring break? Already? It isn't even Easter yet."
"It comes earlier and earlier every year," Kaitlin said. "Hey, how'd you manage to ditch the crotch cutters tonight? Every time I come to work wearing normal pants Prick orders me to go home and change."
"He was about to make me change when you saved the day," Drue said. "I think the little perv gets off looking at camel toes."
"Ya think?" Kaitlin crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue. "By the way, how's the knee?"
"Hurts like a mother," Drue said.
Kaitlin glanced around and lowered her voice. "I've got Percocet in my purse, if you want. My boyfriend had dental surgery and he saved 'em for me."
"I'd love a Percocet, but anything with codeine makes me puke. Advil's all I can take."
"Poor you," Kaitlyn said. "You're on station three, by the way."
"Got it." Drue headed out to her station, six four-tops and four six-tops.
The next two hours were a blur. She took orders, delivered drinks and dodged drunken gropes. At one point she fought her way through the crowd to the bathroom, locked herself in a stall, dropped her jeans and unfastened the brace. Her knee was red and swollen to the size of a cantaloupe. "Not good," she whispered.
She heard the bathroom door swing open with a bang. "Drue!" Prick's voice echoed in the tile-floored room. "Get out here, goddamnit! Your tables are backed up."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sunset Beach"
Copyright © 2019 Whodunnit, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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