Book 9 – Beachcomber Investigations Series
by Stephanie Queen
Was it strange that a grown man—scratch that—middle-aged man should feel like impaled gutter trash, so devastated by the death of a mother he’d seen only a handful of times in the last decade?
The bullet that killed Dane’s mother may as well have hit him. It left a cannon hole in him, obliterating whatever had been left of his heart and soul. Maybe there hadn’t been much there anyway. How could there have been? Seemed he’d spent a lifetime fighting the soul killing hurt in all the most hellish places on earth to no end. Saving people, but not saving everyone. Never saving everyone. But he’d survived.
In body anyway.
This wasn’t about his past catching up with him. No. Dane knew what the devastation, the pain and now the numbness was about. It was because he felt responsible for his mother’s death. Any shrink would have told him this.
The problem was—he was responsible for his mother’s death. She’d been murdered on his watch. At the hands of his enemies. It didn’t matter how much of the devastation he felt was guilt. It should be pure gut-gnawing guilt. He deserved to feel guilty as hell.
He should have been able to protect her. Least he could have done. She’d protected him all those years. Without his father. She saw that he got to adulthood when it was not at all a likely thing.
He stared out his kitchen window again. This time snowflakes filled the sky, obscuring his view of the bay and the ocean. Didn’t matter. He wasn’t going anywhere. Or maybe he should pack his bags and leave this place. Head for the next hellish place and destructive mission. Leave a mark. Try to make up for allowing his mother to die by saving someone else’s mother.
He may as well leave. It wasn’t like his beach shack or Martha’s Vineyard held the solace for him that they once had. Too many things happened here. Too much violence. And now death.
“I invited Cap over for eggnog.” Shana’s strident voice cut him.
Dane turned around to face her standing on the threshold of his kitchen. The glint of her beauty cut into him further. She stared him down with her arms folded like she expected an argument. Like she expected to win the argument.
He didn’t bother arguing. He’d retreat to his bed. Bring a bottle with him. Then he remembered she’d hidden or tossed all the bottles. No matter. She could celebrate the season with innocent eggnog and Cap if she wanted.
The thought of Cap—Captain Colin Lynch—and Shana together stirred an ember in him, but not much. Nothing like the spark it might have created before. There was no fire to be had in his belly. Not today.
“Go for it, girlie.” He smiled. It cost him to muster that much for her. But she deserved whatever he had. She tried hard. Probably too hard. He walked by her and headed to his room half hoping she’d follow him and he could seduce her, lose himself in mindless sex with her. But he’d drawn the line short of letting her put up her body for his use to cure him of his self-pity. Besides, sex was never a simple matter with Shana. He’d end up feeling guilty about it. More guilt. If it were possible.
She’d been trying to save him from himself ever since she’d come to the island. It was a matter of time now—a very short time he’d guess—before she realized the futility. Then he’d be left to himself. The only company he was fit for.
He shut his bedroom door behind him and didn’t bother pulling the blinds. It was barely mid-afternoon but the storm had darkened the sky to near nightfall proportions. It suited him. He’d sleep through the storm. Maybe when he woke again all the darkness would be gone.
Shana wished she had some kind of miracle to get Dane out of his depression. She looked at his closed bedroom door. There was no way she’d go that route. Then she’d end up as depressed as he was and there’d be nothing left of Beachcomber Investigations. Or her. Or him.
Cap thought Dane needed a shrink or heavy medication. But short of hitting him over the head and dragging him bodily, Dane couldn’t be convinced to see a professional. Now weeks later, Shana had hoped the Christmas season would cheer him, but if anything he was worse.
So far, today being Christmas Eve hadn’t cheered her much either. Anxiety had moved into her bones. She’d never worried over anyone or anything the way she worried now about Dane. Cap wasn’t the only one who felt the same way. The governor—his special ops unit commander and friend–called almost daily. Acer, a member of their special ops unit and as far as she could tell, his closest friend–texted her every other day. Sassy and Ronnie, their local twenty-something junior investigators came by often and she was lucky they did. Sassy brought pies from her shop and Ronnie brought pilfered food from the restaurant where he worked. If they hadn’t brought the food and forced her to eat, she would have diminished to a stick figure by now. As it was, her clothes hung on her.
And Dane didn’t notice. Nothing stirred him. Nothing made a difference to him. If she left now, would he care? Would he notice? Would he be better off?
Would she be better off?
No. She’d never forgive herself. It was just as much her fault that his mother was murdered. On her watch. She should have been able to protect Dane’s mother, to prevent the murder—should have seen it coming and have been able to do something.
A rap on the back door saved her from sinking further. She’d hidden the bottle from herself just as much from Dane. She hoped she could enjoy a splash of brandy in her eggnog tonight without succumbing to sobbing. But Cap had been a shiny spot in the bleakness, like her north star, for this past month.
Cap pushed open the back door and stepped into the kitchen with a rush of fat wet snowflakes riding on the cold wind.
Behind Cap, in a bright red snow covered sweater and white knit hat, a stranger stepped forward. Shana jumped back and automatically felt for her gun on her hip and then the back of her waistband.
“Don’t worry—he’s with me.” Cap smirked and moved forward. The man stepped inside behind him and pushed the door closed. Shana shivered. Then she remembered she ought to smile at her guest. She was turning into her crazy aunt Shirley and she wasn’t yet thirty years old. She noticed the man had a bag. She looked at Cap for an introduction or an explanation or something.
“This is Father Pedro.”
She looked closer at the man. He had wet graying hair and dark eyes. Maybe they were kind eyes, but right now they were non-committal. Intelligent and searching like he was looking into her soul and sizing her up.
“I’m Shana. Have a seat. I’m about to put the final touches on the eggnog.”
“Do you have anything hot?”
“Of course—you must be cold.” He had no coat and his sweater was wet.
Cap took off his coat and looked around. She knew he was looking for Dane.
As if by thinking about him they had some cosmic pull, Dane’s door banged opened and a second later he appeared on the threshold of the kitchen. Shana was surprised he wasn’t aiming his old Glock at them, but the look he leveled was threatening enough.
“Dane—“ she said.
“Who the hell are you?”
Padre Pedro stepped around her and his face transformed to warm beautific saintliness. He went to Dane with his arms extended. He had to be nuts.
Dane put his arms out too—to stop the man in his tracks.
“Whoa there, fellow—answer my question. Who the f-ing hell are you?”
The padre stopped an arms distance away as Shana went to Dane’s side—or as close to his side as his porcupine mood would allow. She might need to step in to protect one of them.
“Dane—“ Cap began.
Dane glared at Cap to silence him. The Padre stood and took his time studying Dane—brave for a man with Dane the Demon expecting an answer. All the while Shana figured what kept the Padre safe was the new look on his face. It was like he was heartbroken, like seeing Dane made his heart weep. In fact he looked like he was about to cry when he spoke in a sad, deep ominous voice.
“Oscar sent me.”
About USA Today Bestselling Author Stephanie Queen
A romantic at heart and a writer by nature, Stephanie Queen has the enthusiastic soul of a cheerleader. So of course she loves creating stories where the good guys always win. Although she’s lost count of all the jobs she had before she settled on being a Novelist, her favorite was selling cookies as a Keebler Elf. She is a graduate of UConn (go Huskies!) and Harvard U and lives in New Hampshire with her family, her cat, Kitty, and her (real or imagined?) chauffeur, Myren.