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First pages

Prologue:

Sheriff Lucas Pine had never killed anyone before. For some reason Sergei Kozlov was determined to change that.

 

 Lucas fired. One side of Sergei’s head erupted into a red-mist cloud of blood and bone. The Russian didn’t seem to realize he was already dead. His eyes blinked rapidly. He took a half-step back. Then his knees buckled and he toppled forward face-first onto the asphalt with a wet thud. It was a horrible sound. Lucas wanted to throw up. He quickly looked away. Business owners peered out wide-eyed through store-front windows. They had heard the shouting, the threats, the sheriff’s demand that Sergei drop his weapon followed by the single gunshot that ended Sergei’s life.

 It was early summer in the San Juan Islands. The Friday Harbor streets would soon be filled with the annual visiting chaos of the peak season. Blood oozed toward Lucas’s shoe. He shuffled backwards. An arriving ferry blasted its horn. Lucas looked around and realized he was being watched by a growing throng of island residents and tourists. He still held his gun.

 “Sheriff, are you OK?”

 Lucas quickly holstered his weapon, took a deep breath, and lied. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

 He wasn’t fine. His hands shook. He felt weak and cold. It was hard to move. Lucas crouched down and placed two fingers against Sergei’s neck, feeling for a pulse.

 There was none. Hearts don’t normally beat for a man with half his head shot off.

 The ferry’s horn cried out again.

 “You need me to go get help?”

 Lucas closed his eyes. He stood up in the middle of the street two hundred paces from the ferry terminal – the heart of Friday Harbor’s business district. His SUV was parked behind him with the motor still running. It was a cloudless, sunny morning and unusually warm for this time of year.

 “Sheriff?”

 Lucas glanced at the older woman speaking to him. He finally recalled her name.

 “Please step back Ms. Hunt. Do you have a blanket I could use?”

 Gladys Hunt scurried toward the front door of her San Juan Islands Whale Watching Tours business while repeatedly promising the sheriff that she would be right back. As he walked to his vehicle to retrieve his phone Lucas ignored everyone who watched. He saw them pointing and heard their whispers.

 Lucas called his office. Samantha Boyler handled both reception and dispatch duties for the Sheriff’s Department. She answered on the second ring. Lucas quickly explained the situation. Samantha’s tone made clear her concern for the sheriff’s well-being. She promised to have the department’s two deputies on scene as soon as possible. She would also notify the coroner’s office and contact the ferry terminal staff and instruct them to divert traffic away from the business district. Lucas thanked Samantha for her help, assured her he was OK, and ended the call.

 The shaking in his hands had lessened but had been replaced by a headache. He heard footsteps and turned around to find Gladys holding a blanket. Her eyes darted from side to side looking everywhere but into his.

 These people will never see me the same way again.

 “Here you go Sheriff.”

 Lucas stepped forward. “Thank you.”

 Gladys dropped the blanket into the sheriff’s hands, nervously pushed her glasses higher up onto her nose, and then made a hasty retreat back to the sidewalk. Lucas walked slowly to where Sergei’s body lay. He stared down at it and wondered why the Russian had confronted him in broad daylight in the middle of the busiest street on the islands with a gun drawn while screaming that he was finally going to get what was coming to him.

 It didn’t make sense. Sergei was a petty criminal prone to acts of intimidation, but had never been so stupid. It was suicidal.

 Lucas covered the body. A ray of sunlight hit the metallic tip of Sergei’s gun. Lucas bent down and used the corner of the blanket to pick it up. He was careful not to get his fingerprints on what was now a critical piece of evidence. It felt light - too light.

 The gun was empty.

 What the hell?

 Lucas returned the weapon to its place near the body and stood up. It felt as if the entire town of Friday Harbor had already condemned him for the dead body in the street.

 I didn’t know the gun wasn’t loaded. How could I? He pointed it right at me. I had no choice.

 Lucas saw a second-story window with a “Lucas Pine for Sheriff” sign in it. The election was less than six months away. Sergei’s death would require an inquiry from an outside law enforcement agency and generate considerable attention from regional media. In addition to the normal bustle of the tourist season there would be the added complication of a Hollywood film crew that was to begin preparations for a movie based on the life of local author, Decklan Stone. The director, Vincent Weber, was due to fly into Friday Harbor in just a few days. Lucas had already promised he would be there to greet Weber upon his arrival.

 The summer was going to be a mess.

 Lucas was suddenly very tired. The gun that hung off his hip felt unusually heavy from the weight of guilt and uncertainty.

 I killed a man.

 Lucas tried to convince himself it was all a terrible nightmare. Something he could wake up from. Only when he looked at the lifeless lump that used to be Sergei Kozlov was he forced to admit it was no dream. He had pulled the trigger. Sergei was dead.

 A large seagull dropped out of the sky and came to rest just a few feet from the pool of blood that continued to seep out from beneath the blanket. The bird’s head bobbed up and down as it inched itself closer to the body.

 “Get out of here!” Lucas growled. The seagull took two sideways hops and then flew off. Vehicles continued to exit the ferry and were being diverted by ferry staff away from the shooting scene. Lucas took a deep breath, let it out, and straightened his wide shoulders.

 He had a job to do.

 “Was this your first?”

 Lucas looked up and saw a heavy-set, middle-aged man staring at him. A head of short, thick gray hair was parted to the side. His fleshy face was clean-shaved. The sleeves of his dress shirt were rolled up over a pair of large forearms.

 “Sir, I need you to step away. Please stay on the sidewalk.”

 Though the man’s mouth smiled his dark eyes remained hard. He held up both hands in front of him.

 “I’m State Patrol. Or rather, I was. Retired last year. Just seeing if you needed any help with crowd control. Seems you’re on your own and there’s a whole lot of traffic driving into town right now. My name is Dan Walser. I was on the job twenty-seven years. Saw my share of this kind of thing. It never gets easy. By the look on your face I’d say my hunch was right. This is your first. Did he fire at you?”

 Lucas’s eyes narrowed. He shook his head.

 “No.”

 Walser cleared his throat and arched a brow. “Ah, well, I’m sure you were justified in defending yourself. Clearly the victim was armed. I wouldn’t worry.”

 Walser’s words annoyed the hell out of Lucas. They had a hint of accusation to them. He didn’t want the man’s help. He just wanted him gone.

 “Why would I worry? And why are you referring to the deceased as a victim?”

 Walser took a step back. “No offense intended Sheriff. I just know how these things work. There’ll be lots of questions which sometimes have an unfortunate way of leading to allegations. Something like this happens and pretty soon you have a bunch of outsiders poking around looking for wrongdoing. It’s been my experience that if someone looks hard enough and long enough, they’ll find something. Even the angels of heaven have blood on their hands. Did you know the victim prior to the shooting?”

 Sirens went off inside Lucas’s head. He suspected it was no accident Walser had suddenly appeared on this particular morning under the guise of offering to help keep people off the street. That initial offer of help now felt more like an interrogation.

 “Who are you?”

 Walser cocked his head. “I told you, Sheriff. My name is Dan Walser. I was just stopping to see if a fellow lawman needed assistance. Is that a problem?”

 Lucas’s face tightened as his hand came to rest on the butt of his sidearm. “Why are you really here?”

Walser scowled and took another step back.

 “Hey, you need to calm down. You don’t want my help? That’s fine by me. You take care, Sheriff Pine.”

 Walser spun around and started to walk away.

 


 The headache was getting worse along with the whispering and pointing from the crowd lining the street. At that moment Lucas wanted nothing more than to run away. To hell with being sheriff, he just wanted to be left alone. He had awakened that morning to a job he loved. Killing someone changed all that. It was a part of the job he knew could happen but never really thought would. Whatever potential Sergei might have had, for better or worse, Lucas had permanently ended it. All that was left of him now was an empty shell.

 Right before Walser disappeared into a sea of people, Lucas called out to him.

 Walser turned around and smiled. “What is it Sheriff?”

 Lucas kept his hand resting on his gun as he took three long strides toward the sidewalk. “I’d like you to come by my office later this afternoon.”

 Walser’s smile managed to widen even further. “And why is that?”

 Lucas’s jaw clenched. He knew he was being toyed with.

 “I might have a few questions I’d like to ask you.”

 Walser stepped back onto the street. The smile remained.

 “I imagine you will Sheriff Pine. The thing is, by then, you might find you are the one having to answer questions – not me.”

 Walser leaned forward and whispered his next words so that only the two of them could hear. “Something doesn’t feel right about this. I see it in your eyes. People will find out. Mr. Kozlov can’t speak for himself anymore. You made certain of that, didn’t you?”

 Lucas’s eyes narrowed as he wondered how Walser already knew Sergie’s name. His hand tightened on his gun. Walser took a step back and started to nod as his voice rang out.

 “Absolutely Sheriff, whatever I can do to help! It’s like I said, we lawmen need to stick together. Of course I’ll be at your office this afternoon. The people of these islands deserve no less. You have my word. I am at their service.”

 Walser left just as the ferry bellowed its low-pitched departure note. Lucas returned to his SUV and waited for his deputies to arrive. He tried in vain to push out the image of Walser’s smiling-smirk of a face. His world was about to be turned upside-down. He could feel it. Something bad was coming to the San Juan Islands.

 For the first time in a very long time Lucas Pine was afraid.

1.

 Adele Plank wasn’t happy to see Roland Soros leaving the islands. She didn’t understand why he was doing so and Roland remained unwilling to explain. Whatever the real reason was he seemed determined to keep it from her.

 “You’re just going to sail off into the sunset? What about the bank, all your business obligations?”

 Roland grinned and shrugged. Adele knew he was trying very hard to look nonchalant but she detected the strain in his eyes. Something was bothering him.

 “It’s all taken care of. The vice president at the bank, Sandra Penny, will be handling all of my day-to-day operations. Don’t worry. Your newspaper will still get a check every month for advertising.”

 Adele didn’t care about the advertising and resented Roland suggesting she did. “This isn’t about money Roland. It’s about you. Taking off like this – it doesn’t make sense. Are you in some kind of trouble?”

 Roland pretended to check on his recently-purchased sailboat’s dock ropes while Adele waited for him to answer. He stuck his hands into the back pockets of his shorts and leaned backwards.

 “I appreciate your concern. I really do. I just need some time away is all. Everything is fine.”

 Roland pointed to the sailboat. “Hey, you haven’t told me what you think.”

 Adele glanced at the vessel and nodded. It had been a few months since the Soros family yacht had been burnt beyond repair while sitting in the very same Roche Harbor slip Roland’s new sailboat now occupied.

 “It’s nice.”

 Roland ran his hand along the side of the boat’s hull. “I actually won’t use the sails much. I never really had the patience for it. She’s powered by a fifty-horsepower diesel outboard hidden under the stern cover. There’s a large main tank and a reserve – five hundred gallons total. All customized to my specifications. Sips fuel. I can chug along at displacement speed for hours at a time and go a week before worrying about having to refuel. Two independent battery banks, a primary and backup generator, all commercial-rated navigation equipment, this thing is the real deal. She’ll take me anywhere I have to go.”

 Adele couldn’t help but smile at Roland’s childlike enthusiasm for his latest toy. He caught her in the act and smiled back.

 “What?” he asked.

 Adele shook her head. “Nothing. I noticed you said this thing will take you where you have to go. Does that mean you don’t want to leave? Is someone or something making you?”

 Roland leaned against the boat and folded his arms across his chest. Several days of stubble growth covered the lower half of his deeply-tanned face.

 “I don’t like it when you play detective with me, Adele. Besides Sandra, you’re the only one who knows I’m taking off. I invited you here because I wanted to. I figured you deserved to know I would be gone for a while.”

 Now it was Adele who folded her arms. “Why? Is it because we slept together? Does that make you feel obligated to keep me informed of your travel plans?”

 A flash of annoyance sped across Roland’s eyes. “I don’t want to leave here arguing with you.”

 “When will you be back? And while you’re gone will I be able to get a hold of you?”

 Roland shrugged again. “If I need to contact you I will. As for when I’ll be back, that’ll be when I’m ready and when it feels right.

 “And you don’t know when that will be?”

 Roland shook his head. “No, I don’t. I really do wish I could give you more of an explanation but I can’t. It is what it is.”

 Adele scoffed. “It is what it is? That’s what you want to call suddenly running away from your home, your business, and your friends? That isn’t a real answer Roland. Something is wrong. I’m worried about you.”

 Roland’s mouth opened, then closed, indicating to Adele he was about to say something but then thought better of it. Instead, he cleared his throat, paused, looked down at his feet, and frowned.

 “How’s Lucas holding up?”

 It wasn’t the first time someone had asked Adele that question since the shooting three days earlier. It seemed everyone on the islands was talking about it.

 “I actually don’t really know. He’s been holed up inside his house since it happened. We’ve just spoken by phone a couple of times. He put himself on temporary leave pending the investigation. Last I heard the State Patrol was on its way here to begin interviewing witnesses. Lucas is a lot like you in that way. When something is bothering him he bottles it up.”

 Roland winked. “And that annoys the hell out of you, doesn’t it?”

 Adele’s lips pressed together. “Yeah, it does.”

 “Well, you tell Lucas I hope everything turns out OK. I know all about the sinking feeling that comes when outsiders start looking into how you conduct business.”

 Adele arched a brow. “What do you mean?”

 Roland shook his head. “Nothing, I’m just a sympathetic supporter of our local sheriff is all. We’ve had our differences, but he’s a good man. I know that much. If he shot Sergei he did so because he had to.”

 Adele wondered if Sergei’s death and Roland’s sudden and secretive departure were somehow connected given the two were former business associates. She was about to ask him when Roland cut her off.

 “No, my leaving has nothing to do with Sergei.”

 Adele wasn’t convinced. Sergei’s history on the islands had been a brief but controversial one that directly involved Roland’s attempt to develop a resort and casino atop the wind-swept grass fields of Cattle Point located on the southern tip of San Juan Island. Sergei had acted as the go-between for Roland and Yuri Popov, a mysterious Vancouver B.C. businessman thought to be a boss in the Russian mob. It was Yuri whose efforts to take over Roland’s business interests were thwarted when Roland suddenly donated the entirety of his Cattle Point holdings to the county so that the property could be used for a drug addiction treatment facility. Adele considered the possibility that Yuri blamed Sergei for Roland having temporarily gotten the better of him.

 “Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. Either way I don’t think you would tell me. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to look into it, though.”

 Roland’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t be messing with the likes of Yuri Popov, Adele. My business with him is finished. Sergei is dead. Yuri is back in Vancouver. Leave it at that.”

 Adele decided not to press Roland further on his true reasons for leaving. He had no intention of telling her. If she wanted to get to the truth she would have to find out on her own.

 “I was hoping you’d be here for my birthday.”

 Roland’s brows lifted as his mouth formed a circle. “Oh, that’s right!”

 He appeared to be genuinely disappointed.

 “You won’t be back by then?” Adele asked.

 “I’m not sure. I wish I could promise I will be – but I can’t,” Roland answered.

 Adele nodded. “OK, it’s your choice. The invitation remains. You decide whether or not to accept it.”

 Roland wagged a finger. “I don’t respond to guilt.”

 Adele stuck her chin out. “I wasn’t trying to make you feel guilty, Roland. I was just reminding you that you still have a chance to do the right thing.”

 For the first time since meeting with him that morning Roland tilted his head back and genuinely laughed. The sound made Adele realize how much she had missed hearing it. Then his laughter stopped. Each avoided the other’s gaze until Roland held his arms out.

 “I was hoping to get a hug from you before I go.”

 Adele didn’t hesitate. Roland held onto her tightly. She did the same. Both knew that hug said far more than any words could about when Roland may or may not return to the islands.

 Adele looked up. Roland looked down.

 When he started to pull away Adele placed her hands behind his neck, pulled him toward her, and kissed him lightly on the lips. He paused, grinned, and then kissed her back.

 Soon after, Roland stood on the deck of his sailboat and was pulling away from the dock. Adele watched as he steered the vessel toward open water. She waited for him to turn around.

 He finally did with the palm of his hand extended out toward her. He sent her another smile. Their eyes locked. The smile collapsed. Roland looked down and turned his back on Adele. The sailboat became smaller and smaller until it and Roland disappeared into the horizon.

 Adele wiped away a tear. There was very little wind. It was going to be another warm day. She stood looking down at the water for several minutes before walking toward the other side of the marina where she kept her own sailboat home – a gift left to her two years earlier by a man named Delroy Hicks. Adele had met Delroy during her first summer in the San Juans. Delroy died later that same year from cancer but not before leaving instructions in his will that his sailboat was to be given to Adele should she want it. She accepted the gift and had remained on the islands ever since.

 “Excuse me are you Adele Plank, the reporter for the Island Gazette?”

 Adele stopped and turned around. She put a hand above her eyes to try and block out the bright morning sun. A stocky, gray-haired man stood a few feet from her.

 “Yes. Do I know you?”

 The stranger shook his head. “No, I don’t believe you do.”

 Adele waited for him to say something more. He didn’t.

 “Can I help you?” She asked.

 The man extended his hand. Adele shook it. His grip was strong. When she tried to break off the handshake he squeezed more tightly, holding her in place.

 “My name is Dan Walser. I was hoping to schedule a time when I could ask you a few questions.”

 Adele pulled her hand away. The name was vaguely familiar to her but she didn’t know why. What she did know is that whoever Dan Walser was, she didn’t care for him.

 “Questions regarding what Mr. Walser?”

 Dan smiled. It made him look like an overly content pig.

 “The shooting incident the other day, the one between Sheriff Pine and Sergei Kozlov, I was told if someone wanted answers to things around here you were an excellent source.”

 Adele looked Walser up and down. “Who told you that?”

 Walser took a deep breath. “I don’t recall exactly. I’ve been speaking to a number of people the last few days. Have I done something to offend you? If I have I sincerely apologize. That was not my intent.”

 Adele’s eyes narrowed. She suddenly recalled where she had heard the name before. Lucas had mentioned it to her the first time she spoke to him after the shooting. Walser was the man who had offered to help keep the onlookers away from the body.

 From across the marina the sound of a yacht’s twin diesel engines firing up caused the dock’s wood planks underneath Adele’s feet to vibrate. She gave Walser a tight-lipped frown.

 “I’m a reporter, Mr. Walser, not an information service. If you wish to know what I think, read my articles like everybody else.” Adele started to move away. Walser reached out and grabbed her by the arm.

 “I find it curious you haven’t written an article on the shooting yet. Why is that? Could it be you’re trying to protect your friend the sheriff?”

 Adele jerked her arm loose. “Don’t put your hand on me! And you don’t have any right to question me – about anything. I don’t know why you’re here on the islands. Or why you happened to show up when you did right after the shooting but I promise you I intend to find out.”

 An older male called out from further down the dock. He spoke with a heavy Russian accent and leaned against a thick, black cane.

 “Is everything as it should be?”

 Adele found the phrase odd. Then, despite the warm sun, her skin went cold. She recognized the old man. She had seen him last winter as he was walking back from Roland’s yacht - the same yacht that had been destroyed in a fire soon after. It was Yuri Popov.

 Yuri glanced at Walser and then stared into Adele’s eyes. She tried to look away but found she couldn’t. Roland’s recent warning echoed in her mind.

 Don’t be messing with the likes of Yuri Popov, Adele.

 “Young lady, is this man bothering you?” Yuri asked while continuing to hold Adele’s eyes hostage in his own.

 Adele finally managed to look away. She shook her head.

 “I’m fine. Thank you.”

 Yuri smiled and nodded. “That is good. You are such a pretty, smart thing. I would not wish to see one such as you bothered by strange men. These islands are beautiful but as you already know, they can be dangerous as well.”

 Adele attempted to step away from Yuri but bumped up against Walser who had quietly positioned himself behind her. Yuri leaned forward, leering down at Adele close enough she could see the shades of yellow on his dentures.

 “Tell me, have you seen our friend Roland lately?”

 Walser’s hands clamped down on Adele’s shoulders with enough force she cried out in pain.

 “Gentlemen, I ask that you step away from my friend.”

 Yuri squinted as he tried to make who had just issued the order. Adele already knew who it was. She heard footsteps behind her. Walser’s hands fell away as he turned around. Adele pushed past him and gave Tilda Ashland a grateful smile. The tall, red and gray-haired owner of the Roche Harbor Hotel glanced at Adele.

 “Are you OK?”

 Adele nodded.

 “Do you know these men?”

 “The older one is Yuri Popov.”

 Tilda looked like she had just smelled something foul. “Ah, I see.”

 Yuri moved in front of Walser. He glared at Tilda. Tilda glared back, unblinking and without fear. They stood like that for several seconds. Adele hoped she wasn’t witnessing an unspoken declaration of war between the two. Yuri pointed at Tilda and snarled.

 “Mind your own business old woman. Do you know who I am?”

 Tilda stepped forward. She towered over both men.

 “I don’t care who you are, Mr. Popov. This is Roche Harbor. That means you are the one who should be worried about who I am.”

 Tilda put her arm around Adele’s shoulders. “C’mon, let’s go.”

 Adele could feel the eyes of Yuri Popov and Dan Walser on her as she left. Tilda looked straight ahead as she whispered to Adele.

 “I was watching from the hotel and saw them circling you. I arrived here as quickly as I could. Do you have any idea what the hell that was all about?”

 Adele shook her head. “No, not really. Yuri was asking about Roland. He wanted to know where he was. The other one is named Dan Walser. He was there in Friday Harbor when Lucas shot Sergei.”

 Tilda’s arm tightened around Adele. “And that would be the same Sergei who worked for Yuri Popov, correct?”

 Adele nodded. “That’s right.”

 Tilda’s pace slowed. They were nearing the hotel. Adele knew that was the place her friend felt most safe. Tilda turned around and looked down at the marina.

 “I believe we are about to have an especially interesting summer.”

 Adele spotted Yuri Popov still standing where they had left him. He was staring up at the hotel. She knew Tilda was right. Things were likely about to get very interesting – and dangerous.

2.

 They were running late. Tilda urged Adele to drive faster. Vincent Weber was due to fly into the Friday Harbor airport very soon.

 For Adele, having Tilda sitting in the passenger seat of her MINI was a surreal experience. She had never seen Tilda beyond the borders of the Roche Harbor resort, let alone wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes.

 “Stop looking at me.”

 Adele struggled to hide her grin. “I’m sorry. It’s just a little weird seeing you out and about dressed like the common folk.”

 Tilda grunted. “Indeed.”

 “Where’s Brixton?” Adele asked.

 Brixton Bannister was the Hollywood actor the world believed had died several years ago after his plane was thought to have plunged into the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands. Tilda and Adele were among the few to know the truth. Brixton had actually retreated from all the trappings and burdens of fame while living in a cave on a large rock called Ripple Island a few miles north of Roche Harbor. The next Vincent Weber film was to be Brixton’s return to his former life as an international movie star.

 “He took a cab to the airport. He wanted to make certain he wasn’t late.”

 Adele sped into a corner on the road between Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor. She was reminded of her first trip on that same road when she was the passenger in a car being driven by her friend Suzanne Blat, owner of the Friday Harbor bookstore. Back then Adele was amazed at how Suze could drive so fast while hardly looking at the road, having driven it so many times before. Now it was Adele who was doing the same. In the space between those few years she had truly become an islander.

 “Are you worried about Brixton? Do you think he might not be able to handle all the pressure? It won’t just be the movie. It will be his coming back. He’s supposed to be dead. The media attention on him is going to be intense.”

 Tilda stared out the passenger window at the tall grass fields. Her eyes narrowed.

 “Yes, it won’t be easy for him but he’s convinced himself that it’s what he wants.”

 Adele took another tight turn. One of the MINI’s front tires chirped.

 “It’s going be so different for Brixton than all that time he had to himself on Ripple Island. I worry about how it might mess with his head. He’s always seemed like such a fragile man. And what about Decklan and Calista? I haven’t heard from them, either. That seems a bit odd. It makes me wonder if they might be having second thoughts about all this, too.”

 The mystery of Decklan and Calista Stone had been the motivation for Adele’s initial arrival to the islands. Like Brixton, Decklan had largely retreated from the world following what he thought was his wife’s death by drowning. The shocking and remarkable story of Calista’s survival set in motion what was now to be Vincent Weber’s film, The Writer, the title of which was inspired by an article of that same name written by Adele shortly after Calista’s rescue.

 Tilda cleared her throat. “They wouldn’t be the only ones.”

 Adele slowed down as she glanced at Tilda. “What? You think the film might be a mistake?”

 Tilda closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t know. Like I told you, it’s what Brixton wants.”

 “You keep saying that – it’s what he wants. What do you want Tilda?”

 Tilda didn’t answer. She was looking out at the passing fields again. Adele continued to slow down.

 “Does Brixton know how much you care about him?”

 Tilda scowled. “Of course he does.”

 Adele pulled the car over to the side of the road. “Look at me. This is important. I’m not talking about as friends or being a supporter of his career. Have you told Brixton how you really feel about him?”

 “He cares for me and we care for each other. We’ve been friends for some time. You know this, Adele. Don’t attempt to make me explain the obvious.”

 Adele waited until Tilda turned to face her. “Then don’t keep avoiding the obvious. If you have concerns about this movie being made, how it might affect Brixton, you need to tell him. And the same goes for your feelings. If you really care about him then he should know that.”

 Tilda sighed. “It wouldn’t be right to have my feelings influence what is best for him. Brixton wants to do this film. He wants to play the part of Decklan. He feels very deeply that his having spent so many years alone makes him perfect for the part. Who am I to try and stop him from doing so? And what if my concerns are nothing more than my own insecurity in knowing this film will likely return him to Hollywood? He’ll be the man he was, not the one he has been with me since he allowed the world to think he was dead. I have no right to demand his life here is to be the only life for him. That choice should be his and his alone. Besides, he’s too young for me.”

 Adele snorted through her nose. “Hah! Don’t give me that. Brixton is what, ten years younger?”

 Tilda smiled. She appeared to be warming to the conversation.

 “You know he looks like a school boy next to me since he shaved his beard.”

 “Shaved” was an understatement. Prior to cleaning himself up for his leading role in The Writer, Adele recalled Brixton looking and often smelling like a deranged island hermit. She wagged her finger.

 “I don’t buy your insecurity for a second. I doubt Brixton Bannister is the only one around these islands interested in getting to know your romantic side. Money and mystery are two potent aphrodisiacs and believe me, you have plenty of both.”

 Tilda lifted her head, arched a brow, and folded her arms across her ample chest. “I suppose you’re right. I do remain a remarkable woman.”

 Adele laughed. “There’s the aristocratic arrogance I’ve missed!”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

D.W. Ulsterman is the author of the Kindle Scout-winning San Juan Islands Mystery series published by Kindle Press as well as the bestselling, The Irish Cowboy. He lives with his wife of twenty-five years in the Pacific Northwest. During the summer months you can find him navigating the waters of his beloved San Juan Islands. He is the father of two children who are now both attending university and also best friends with Dublin the Dobe.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Yes! Love and friendship are often the same and can be wonderfully messy and complicated things.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The San Juan Islands Mystery series is about Adele Plank's discovery of the islands and how those islands help her to better understand herself. She's an inquisitive, strong-willed young woman who grows more interesting and adventurous with each book in the series.
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
James Breakwell's Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. It's silly, heartfelt and chock full of simple wisdom. It's also very-very funny. We all need a break from the serious from time to time, yeah?

Next in:
Romance
Between Love and Fear
Will protecting her save him from himself?
One Hundred Reasons
Fresh starts, hope, and happily ever afters.
A Second Chance Summer
Searching for a new life and an old flame