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When Laine Carrington arrived in Thunder Point, she went directly to the hill above the beach and sat in the parking lot beside Cooper's bar. She didn't go inside- she would do that later. She just wanted to see if the view from this perch matched the pictures she'd been sent. She let out her breath, not even realizing she'd been holding it. The vista before her was even better.
What am I doing here? she asked herself again. She'd been asking herself over three thousand miles of driving.
The view was stunning. The beach was wide and long. The huge, black haystack rocks were a powerful contrast against the gray-blue water. The mouth of the bay lay between two promontories, the Pacific stretching endlessly beyond, crashing against the giant rocks, but the water in the bay was calm.
She shivered in the cold and pulled her jacket tighter. It was late January and the damp cold caused her right shoulder to ache all the way to her elbow. She'd had surgery on that shoulder three months ago. A bullet was removed and damage repaired. Maybe it was the bullet that brought her to Thunder Point. Laine had been wounded on the job, then pulled from FBI field service and put on a desk while recovering. She wasn't given any active cases but she had a computer-she was limited to what amounted to research and clerical work for other agents. When she realized they were going to keep her on that desk for a long time, light duty, assisting rather than leading investigations, she requested a one-year leave of absence to focus on rehab.
Rehab was an excuse. She didn't need a year. She was close to seventy-five-percent total recovery of the shoulder and in another six months she'd be a hundred percent. But even though she was cleared for duty by the shrink, she wanted time to rethink her career path. And she was allergic to that full-time desk.
Plus, she'd had a miserable holiday visit with her father in Boston. She left angry, went back to her Virginia town house, got in touch with a Realtor in Thunder Point, where she knew a couple of people, and from emailed photos she had chosen a house to rent. A house with a view of the bay. Because Thunder Point, Oregon, was just about as far from Boston as she could get.
Her car was in the parking lot of the bar and she leaned against the hood for a long time, staring at the sea. It was overcast and cold, and there was no one on the water. It was glum, actually. But she liked cloudy or stormy days. Her mother used to call them soup days. Although her mother had been a career woman, she had loved to cook and bake and it was particularly on days like this that she'd come home from her office or the hospital early, arms filled with grocery bags, and spend a few hours in the kitchen. It relaxed her. She loved filling her family with comfort food-thick soups and stews, hearty casseroles, pastas in rich sauces and sweet, soft breads.
Laine sighed. She would never get over losing her mother. It had been five years and she still reached for the phone. Then she'd remember. She's gone.
It was time to get to town to meet the Realtor. She got in her car, drove out of the parking lot and took the road that crossed the beach and led to the town. There was some construction on the hill-it looked like a few houses were being built on this beachfront hillside. Like Cooper's bar, they would have the best views in the town.
She drove to the main street and parked in front of the clinic. When she got out of her car she locked it out of habit. She looked up and down the street lined with lampposts still boasting a bit of Christmas garland. Well, it was only January, she thought with a private chuckle.
Laine walked into the clinic and there, sitting behind the counter at her desk, was Devon McAllister. She rose with a wide smile on her face.
"You're here," Devon said in a near whisper. She came around the counter and embraced Laine. "There was a part of me afraid you wouldn't come. That something would happen, that the FBI would have work for you
"Can we please not say a lot about that?"
"About what? The commune? The raid? The FBI?"
Laine couldn't help herself, she brushed the hair back from Devon's pretty face as if she were a little sister. Laine had taken Devon under her wing in the commune. "About all of it," she said. "When people find out I work for the FBI they either ask me a ton of weird questions or they get strange, like they're worried I'm going to do a background check on them or something. At least until I settle in a little bit, let's downplay all that stuff."
"What will you say? Because these people want to know everything about everyone. They're nice about it, but they will ask."
"I'll just say I worked on a federal task force, but most of my work was just at a desk, compiling data, research, that sort of thing. Not at all a lie. And I'm on leave because of shoulder surgery."
"Okay," Devon said, laughing softly. "They really don't need to know your task force was counterterrorism until you stumbled on an illegal pot farm in the middle of a cult and that you had shoulder surgery because you were shot in the line of duty." Then she grinned.
Laine groaned. "Please, I really don't want to sound that interesting."
"Well, the only people who know certain details were there that night and they were briefed pretty thoroughly. Rawley, Cooper and Spencer will be very happy to see you," Devon said. "And of course Mac knows-he's the law around here, can't get anything by him. I told Scott, my boss, but I can keep him quiet. He's pretty easy to control."
"Is that so?" Laine asked with a smile.
"Oh, yes," she said. "In Dr. Grant's case it has more to do with me being happy so I can keep track of all the paperwork in this clinic. He dreads things like insurance filing, especially Medicaid and Medicare. He does it when he has to and frankly, it takes him five times as long as it takes me. He's not even very good at keeping lab work and patient files up to date."
"You're so different from the person I knew on the farm."
"Actually, I was different in the commune from the person I really am," Devon said. "This is more me. I was always a good student, a hard worker. But you are the curiosity. How did a sophisticated city girl like you manage to fit into the family like you did?"
Laine smiled, secretly proud. "Specialized training, research, good role-playing."
"I can see that working for a couple of days, but it was over six months!" Devon reminded her.
She knew. Only too well. "Very good research and role-playing," she said. Not to mention the fact that lives were at stake and rested on her success or failure. Laine had done a lot of undercover work over the years but her time with The Fellowship had been the longest deep-cover assignment in her career. She had requested it, thinking it would be a brief fact-finding assignment. She thought she could probably fit in, get to the bottom of what was happening there, but what was going on was quite different than what the FBI suspected. They had been looking for evidence of sovereign citizenry, tax evasion, fraud, human trafficking and possible domestic terrorism. What she found, once she was inside, was a giant pot farm fronted by a fake cult.
Laine could have left then, escaped, turned her information over to the task force and let them figure out how to proceed, how to best serve a warrant and get inside to make arrests without creating a small war. But there were women and children behind the fence that surrounded The Fellowship and the men in charge would fight back-they were armed to the teeth. So she stayed, getting as many of them out safely as she could before law enforcement breached the compound. It had been a dangerous and complex operation and in the end, she'd been shot by the cult leader, the boss. Jacob.
"Are you ready to have a little quiet now?" Devon asked.
"You have no idea," Laine said. But she'd never actually had quiet before. The thought of whole days without plans stretching out in front of her was intimidating.
"I saw it," Devon said. "The house you rented."
"Ray Anne, the Realtor I suggested to you, told me which house it was and I peeked in some windows. It's beautiful. So beautiful."
"I've only seen pictures," Laine replied. "I understand I was very lucky-that there's hardly ever rental property available around here."
"At least not real pretty rental property. This is a vacation home that for some reason the family isn't going to be using for a while so they're renting it."
"Do you know them? The people who own it?"
Devon shook her head. "But I haven't been here that long. I don't know everyone, that's for sure."
Laine looked at her watch. "I better go meet Ray Anne. Want to come? See the inside from the inside?"
She grinned and nodded. "Let me check with Scott, then I'll follow you so I can come right back."
"Maybe I better follow you," Laine said. "I haven't even looked in the windows yet."
Devon led the way to Laine's rental. They drove down the main street, past what seemed to amount to the entire commercial district of Thunder Point, took a left and entered a residential neighborhood. A woman who appeared altogether too dressed up exited her BMW in front of a very small house that sat in the middle of about a dozen nondescript houses. The foliage and pines surrounding the little house were deep green even though it was the dead of winter. Virginia or Boston at this time of year would be covered with snow and the trees bare.
Laine was a little shocked at how ordinary and dumpy the little house looked; she had never seen a picture of the front exposure. It seemed very small. There was an ordinary white door with a diamond-shaped window in it and one front window. If this were her house she'd paint the door dark green and add identically colored shutters to that window.
Laine parked, got out and stretched a hand toward the Realtor. "Ms. Dysart?" she asked.
"Call me Ray Anne. So nice to finally meet you, Laine." She dangled house keys. "I think you're going to love this. Please, do the honors."
With Ray Anne close on her tail and Devon following, Laine stepped into the small house and entered a whole new world. Right inside the front door was a spacious foyer and the house opened up before her. To her left, an open staircase and small powder room, to her right, a small and unfurnished room with louvered double doors, perfect for Laine to use as an office. Straight ahead was a great room with a large picture window. To the left of the great room was a big open kitchen with a dining area in front of a matching window. Dividing the two windows were French doors that Ray Anne immediately opened, revealing a very large deck and a view of the bay that just about knocked Laine out. She inhaled deeply, appreciatively. She walked outside to the railing and looked down-the deck sat atop a rocky hill.
"You can't get to the beach from here," Ray Anne said from behind her. "There really isn't much beach- only a little when the tide's out. You'll have to go down the street and back through town to the marina. This is considered oceanfront. The only beachfront in Thunder Point is over there, where Cooper is building. Most of us thought there would never be any building there, but Cooper has a plan for maybe as many as twenty single-family residences. The rest of us po' folk have to get to the beach either from his bar or the marina. This is the north promontory. Straight across there, that's the south promontory. The previous owner, the guy who left it to Cooper in his will, had always wanted it to be a nature preserve, safe for the wildlife. Much as I'd like him to cut it up and let me sell lots for him, you have to admit it's beautiful."
"Beautiful," Laine said in a breath. A few trees growing right out of the rocks and hillside below her deck reached up so that their branches brushed the railing. They needed trimming so they wouldn't obstruct her view.
"It's so wet and cold right now I didn't uncover the grill or deck furniture. I thought I'd leave that to you. You might not want to sit outside in this weather."
Laine looked around for the first time. It looked like she had a table and four chairs, a chaise and a rather large grill under the weatherproof drapes. Laine turned and went inside again, taking note of the great room, divided from the kitchen by a breakfast bar. The pictures had done the interior more credit than it deserved. There was a maroon sofa, two uncomfortable-looking rattan chairs, a nice fireplace and zero homey touches. The breakfast nook held a beat-up but large table with eight cane-back chairs. There was a short hall that led to a laundry room, pantry and interior garage door. "Bedroom?" she asked.
"Right this way," Ray Anne said, leading her back toward the front door and up the stairs. Laine and Devon followed along. At the top of the stairs was a set of double doors that stood open to expose a rather small but comfortable-looking master bedroom. Not a suite, but a bedroom. One queen-size bed, one bureau, one bedside table and a fireplace. But it had a triple-wide set of sliding glass doors and a small deck again with the most stunning view. Laine was drawn to it. Her eyes nearly rolled back in her head at a vision of sitting against big pillows, looking out the window at the clouds, only the fireplace lighting the room.