Wydawca: Montana Publishing Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 2017

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Opis ebooka The Sea King's Lady - S.E. Smith

Seven incredible kingdoms, eight sexy tales of love, angst, and adventure! This contemporary fairy tale series will take you to a world filled with dragons, merpeople, pirates, witches, monsters, Elementals, adorably mischievous boys plotting to complete their family, and gorgeous, lonely kings surrounded by secrets... Jenny Ackerly can’t bring herself to give up the search for her best friend Carly, not yet. She would know - she would! - if Carly was dead. Though today marks exactly two years since Carly disappeared without a trace from Yachats State Park and Jenny knows she should be moving on, still she feels compelled to go one last time to the Park.... Orion is the powerful ruler of the Isle of the Sea Serpent and protector of the oceans – and never in his life has he felt so helpless. For hundreds of years, the Eyes of the Sea Serpent have been in his family’s possession, giving them power over the oceans, and now they have been stolen! Meanwhile, his oldest son’s bargain with the Sea Witch threatens to seal the fate of the merpeople—possibly the fate of all the Seven Kingdoms, because Orion's people will surely be needed in the coming war. The situation seems bleak... until a fiery female from another world appears. An unlikely alliance between Jenny and Orion could change everything, but what will it take survive the evil lurking in the depths of the ocean? Internationally acclaimed S.E. Smith presents a new action-packed story full of romance and adventure. Brimming with her signature humor, vivid scenes, and beloved characters, this book is sure to be another fan favorite! Main Content: 191 (6x9) pages, 62,790 words

Opinie o ebooku The Sea King's Lady - S.E. Smith

Fragment ebooka The Sea King's Lady - S.E. Smith

The Sea King’s Lady

Seven Kingdoms Tale 2

S.E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Synopsis

Seven Kingdoms/Cast of Characters

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Epilogue

Sample of The Beast Prince

Additional Books and Information

About the Author

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my husband Steve for believing in me and being proud enough of me to give me the courage to follow my dream. I would also like to give a special thank you to my sister and best friend, Linda, who not only encouraged me to write, but who also read the manuscript. Also to my other friends who believe in me: Julie, Debbie, Christel, Sally, Jolanda, Lisa, Laurelle, and Narelle. The girls that keep me going!

And a special thanks to Paul Heitsch, David Brenin, Samantha Cook, Suzanne Elise Freeman, and PJ Ochlan—the awesome voices behind my audiobooks!

—S.E. Smith

Paranormal Romance

The Sea King’s Lady: A Seven Kingdoms Tale 2

Copyright © 2017 by S. E. Smith

First E-Book Published December 2017

Cover Design by Melody Simmons

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the author.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events, or organizations are strictly coincidental and not intended by the author.

Summary: A young woman searching for her missing friend tries to save the life of a young boy only to find herself in a magical underwater kingdom in a far off world.

ISBN (paperback) 978-1-944125-20-2

ISBN (createspace paperback) 978-1985581203 

ISBN (eBook) 978-1-944125-19-6

Published in the United States by Montana Publishing.

{1. Fantasy Romance—Fiction. 2. Paranormal Romance—Fiction. 3. Action/Adventure—Fiction. 4. Fantasy—Fiction. 5. Romance—Fiction.}

www.montanapublishinghouse.com

Synopsis

Clutching the material of the gown in her hands, she lifted it just far enough to make sure she didn’t step on it before raising her chin and straightening her shoulders. She was going to do this.

“I’ve totally lost my mind,” she said, staring at the door and willing her legs to work.

“Completely, so you have nothing to worry about,” Kelia informed her.

Jenny can’t bring herself to give up the search for Carly, even after all this time. Orion can’t stop the Sea Witch from using his child to seal the fate of the merpeople. An unlikely alliance between Jenny and Orion could change everything, but what will it take survive the evil lurking in the depths of the ocean?

Jenny Ackerly is devastated when her best friend disappears without a trace. During her latest search for Carly, her determination turns to horror when she sees a young boy running from an empty beach into the freezing sea. When the boy doesn’t resurface, Jenny’s protective instincts ignite and she rushes to save the child from certain death, swimming farther and deeper than she ever would have on her own, until she is caught in a powerful undertow. When Jenny resurfaces, she is in a magical, underwater world.

Orion is the powerful ruler of the Isle of the Sea Serpent and protector of the oceans, but time is running out for him. For hundreds of years, the Eyes of the Sea Serpent have been in his family’s possession, giving them power over the oceans, and now they have been stolen! Meanwhile, his oldest son’s bargain with the Sea Witch threatens to seal the fate of the merpeople—and possibly that of the Seven Kingdoms. The situation seems hopeless—until a fiery female from another world appears….

Seven Kingdoms/Cast of Characters

The Seven Kingdoms:

Isle of the Dragons: Ruler Drago

Gift from the Goddess—The Dragon’s Heart

Drago and the dragons were created second.

Isle of the Sea Serpent: Ruler Orion

Gift from the Goddess—The Eyes of the Sea Serpent

They control the oceans and the creatures who live there.

Isle of Magic: Rulers Queen Magika and King Oray

Gift from the Goddess—The Orb of Eternal Light

Their magic is the most powerful on their isle but begins to fade when they leave it.

Isle of Giants: Ruler King Koorgan

Gift from the Goddess—The Tree of Life

They are capable of growing to massive sizes when threatened.

Isle of the Elementals: RulersQueen Adrina and KingRuger

Gift from the Goddess—Gem of Power

The first created, they have power over the elements: earth, wind, fire, water, and sky.

Isle of the Pirates: Ruler The Pirate King Ashure Waves

Gift from the Goddess—The Cauldron of Spirits

Collectors of all things fine. Fierce and smart, they roam the isles trading, bargaining, and occasionally helping themselves to items of interest.

Isle of the Monsters: Ruler Empress Nali

Gift from the Goddess—The Goddess Mirror

A haven for monsters thought to be too dangerous, rare, or unwelcome in any realm of the universe.

Characters:

Magna: half witch/half sea people she is Orion’s distant cousin on his father’s side

Drago: King of the Dragons.

Carly Tate: Banking Associate from Yachats, Oregon

Theron: Drago’s Captain of the Guard

Orion: King of the Sea People

Jenny Ackerly: School Teacher and Carly’s best friend

Dolph: Orion’s 8 year old son from his first marriage

Juno: Orion’s 5 year old son from his first marriage

Shamill: Orion’s first wife – deceased.

Kapian: Orion’s Captain of the Guard and best friend

Kelia: Orion’s elderly nursemaid

Coralus: Kelia’s husband, a royal guard & mentor to Orion and Kapian

Kell: Magna’s father

Seline: Magna’s mother

Ashure Waves: King of the Pirates

Bleu LaBluff: Ashure’s Second-in-Command

Nali: Empress of the Monsters

Gem: Princess of the Elements

Ross Galloway: Fisherman from Yachats, Oregon

Mike Hallbrook: Detective for Yachats, Oregon Police Department

Ruth Hallbrook: Accountant and sister of Mike

Koorgan: King of the Giants

Marina: Witch

Isha: Captain of the Guard for the King and Queen of the Isle of Magic; Marina’s older brother.

Magika: Queen of the Isle of Magic

Oray: King of the Isle of Magic

Goeff: Marina’s younger brother

Erin: Marina’s younger sister

Gant: Koorgan’s Captain of the Guard and friend

Cyan: Female Cyclops: Boost’s mate

Boost: Male Cyclops: Cyan’s mate

Meir: Minotaur

Prologue

Five years earlier:

“Your Majesty,” one of the guards urgently called to Orion.

Orion turned with a frown. He nodded at Kapian, his Captain of the Guard, to wait for him. They needed to review the damage caused by a minor earthquake that had struck three hours earlier, develop a plan of action to help those affected, and send support crews to begin repairs.

He and Kapian had just returned from a scouting mission offshore. The quake had rippled along the rocky floor of the ocean, opening a crevice that almost sucked them into it. They had hastily returned to the Isle of the Sea Serpent after they realized that the quake would probably impact the island as well.

There was no damage to the underwater city when they returned there, but he had received reports of some damage to the city above. Though the intensity of the earthquake had been relatively minor, he was concerned about the possibility of a Tsunami causing further damage to the upper kingdom. The new buildings were designed to withstand much stronger quakes, but there were also many older structures that would be vulnerable. His frown deepened when he realized who had called out to him. York was his wife’s personal guard and was normally never far from her side.

“Is there a problem?” he demanded, noting the worried expression in York’s eyes.

“It is the Queen, Your Majesty. She was hurt in the earthquake,” York stated.

“Orion, do you want me to…,” Kapian said, turning to gaze at Orion.

Orion shook his head at Kapian’s sympathetic tone. “Find out if anyone else has been injured for me, Kapian, while I see to Shamill,” Orion ordered before he turned to face York again. “Where is she?”

“In her chambers, Your Majesty,” York replied.

Orion brushed past the guard and strode toward his wife’s chambers. Palace guards straightened to attention as he passed, but he ignored them. His thoughts were on Shamill.

“Your Majesty,” York called from behind him.

Orion impatiently turned to the guard, his hand on the door handle to Shamill’s living quarters. He waited for York to catch up. His lips tightened when he saw an expression of grief in the man’s eyes.

“What is it?” he demanded.

“I should warn you…,” York said before his voice faded and he glanced at the door. “The Queen’s injuries were most grievous. I should have protected her better. Please accept my deepest regrets, Your Majesty.”

Orion didn’t wait to hear York’s next words. He didn’t need to—the man’s expression told him that Shamill’s injuries must have been worse than he had first thought. Turning around, he pushed open the door. Three healers turned toward him when he entered the room and bowed in respect. They did not speak as he continued through the sitting room to Shamill’s bedroom.

He paused for a brief second in the doorway. In addition to the healers conversing in the sitting room, there were three women in the room with his wife. The first was one of Shamill’s Ladies-in-Waiting who was brushing a damp cloth across Shamill’s pale forehead. Shamill lay against the pristine white sheets, her skin almost the same color. He moved his gaze to the second woman who stood near the window. This woman held a small bundle in her arms and was swaying back and forth.

“Your Majesty,” the third woman, Kelia, murmured with a respectful bow of her head.

Kelia had been his nursemaid when he was young and had been attending to Shamill during the later months of her pregnancy. His gaze moved over Kelia’s lined face before shifting to Shamill’s peaceful one. He hadn’t missed the sorrow in the older woman’s eyes.

“How is she?” he asked in a low voice.

“Not good, Your Majesty. Her highness was walking along the upper cliffs when the earthquake occurred. A portion of the retaining wall along one of the walking paths collapsed on top of her, trapping her,” Kelia explained in a trembling voice. “Her guard found her and called for assistance.”

“The babe…,” Orion hesitantly asked.

“Your son survived, but keeping him alive until he could be born has cost the Queen her life,” Kelia replied.

Orion walked over to the edge of the bed. Shamill’s Lady-in-Waiting rose and silently walked over to the window. Orion sank down onto the bed next to his wife.

In the background, he heard Kelia murmur quietly to the young woman standing next to the window. The young woman holding his son handed the infant to Kelia before she and Shamill’s Lady-in-Waiting quietly exited the room. Kelia walked over and held out the infant to him. Orion tenderly scooped the baby into his arms.

“I will be outside the door if you need my assistance,” Kelia murmured.

Orion nodded and gazed down at the round, rosy cheeks of the sleeping infant. He lifted a finger and gently ran it down the baby’s cheek. Almost immediately, the baby turned his head and opened his mouth.

“He… is… well?” Shamill asked in a voice that was barely audible.

Orion moved his gaze to Shamill. Her eyes were open, but he could see the shadows of death in them. Her gaze was no longer sharp and clear. The light that usually glimmered in her eyes was now barely visible.

“Yes, he is,” Orion said, adjusting the baby in his arms so Shamill could see him.

A hint of a smile curved her lips before it faded. She winced and drew in a shaky breath. Her eyelids fluttered and closed for a moment before she forced them open again. Their gazes locked, and a sense of sorrow filled him. While he and Shamill had never been in love with each other, they were good friends. He respected her quiet grace and gentle soul.

“Dolph…,” Shamill whispered.

“He is safe,” Orion reassured her.

“Let me… just one… time… before….”

Orion gently laid the baby on Shamill’s chest. He instinctively reached out to catch the tear that escaped from the corner of her eye. She moved her left hand, but she was too weak to lift it. Reaching down, he cupped it and placed her cold fingers against their son’s warm cheek.

“What… name…?” she asked in a threadbare voice.

“Juno. His name is Juno, just like you insisted,” Orion said with a small, sad smile.

“Juno…,” Shamill whispered.

Orion grasped her hand when it started to slide. Drawing her cold fingers to his lips, he pressed a kiss to the tips. His gaze remained fixed on her face as the last of the light swirled and faded in her eyes. Juno’s faint cry pierced him, it was as if the child could feel that his mother was gone.

“May your journey bring you happiness, Shamill. I will protect both of our sons and the kingdom,” Orion said in a quiet voice.

He bent forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead before he gently scooped the fretting baby into his arms. Grief swept through him as he rose from the bed. Turning, he saw Kelia standing just outside the open doorway. She started forward with her arms out, but he shook his head.

“Where is Dolph?” he asked.

“The young lord is in the garden with his nursemaid,” Kelia replied.

“I want you to find a nursemaid for Juno. Tell her to meet me in the garden in ten minutes,” Orion ordered.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Kelia said with a bow of her head.

Orion walked through the sitting room and out through the balcony doors. Shamill had insisted on a first-floor apartment when they married as she feared heights and enjoyed being near the gardens. His own apartments were located in the West tower. He preferred to be able to look out over the ocean when he was on the isle.

Walking across the wide, covered balcony, Orion descended the steps and continued along the stone path. He instinctively shielded the baby in his arms as he walked through the garden. Even though the sun was low on the horizon, he knew the babe would be sensitive to light. He paused under a nearby tree and listened. He smiled when he heard the squeal of his eldest son’s voice, followed by a splash.

“Master Dolph, you are not to get wet! Dinner will be soon,” the nursemaid sharply scolded.

Orion walked down the path to a small stream that ran through the garden. Dolph sat in the middle of it, laughing and splashing. His eldest son was already a handful and, if the frustrated expression on the woman’s face was anything to go by, it appeared he would be assigning a new nursemaid before long.

“I will see to him,” Orion said in a dismissive tone.

The woman turned in surprise. Orion saw her gaze move to the baby in his arms before returning to his face. She looked shaken.

“Yes, Your Majesty. I… My heart goes with the Queen,” she said, lightly touching her fingers to her chest near her heart.

“My gratitude for your sympathy,” Orion replied before he focused his attention on his oldest son. “Dolph, come here.”

“Father, I can make the water dance!” Dolph giggled, wiggling his fingers.

Orion watched as the water rose and swirled at his son’s command. There was no denying that Dolph would be a very powerful ruler one day. He smiled at his eldest son’s delight. Life continued.

“Very good, son. Come, meet your new brother,” Orion said as he walked over to a stone bench under a tree and sat down.

“Can I teach him to make the water dance?” Dolph asked, climbing up the bank.

Orion chuckled. “When he is older,” he promised.

Dolph hurried over to his father. He paused and gazed down at the small bundle in Orion’s arms before looking up at his father with a frown. Another smile tugged at the corner of Orion’s mouth at the perplexed expression on his son’s face.

“He is small,” Dolph said, gazing down at his brother again.

“So were you when you were his age,” Orion gently explained.

“Can I touch him?” Dolph asked, looking up at his father.

“Yes, but be gentle,” Orion replied, readjusting Juno so his elder brother could see him better.

“Mother went away. Didn’t she want to be with us anymore?” Dolph asked, sliding his finger along Juno’s cheek.

“Who told you about your mother?” Orion demanded, looking intently at his son.

Dolph giggled when Juno opened his mouth and tried to suck on his finger. Orion’s mouth tightened in annoyance. It was his place to explain what had happened to Shamill. If the nursemaid had said anything….

“The water,” Dolph replied. “Will he get teeth?”

“The water…?” Orion asked with a frown.

Dolph nodded and looked up at his father. “The water told me that Mother had returned to her. She said not to be sad because we would have a new mother one day who would love us just as much,” he replied. “Can I go play in the water again?”

Orion nodded, stunned by his son’s statement. The sound of approaching footsteps drew his attention. Kapian, Kelia, and a young girl paused briefly near the path leading to the stone bench where he sat.

Orion rose to his feet as they approached. Kelia reached out for Juno, who was beginning to fuss again. He handed the newborn to her.

“We will see to his care, Your Majesty,” Kelia said. “This is my granddaughter, Karin.”

“Thank you, Kelia,” Orion absently replied.

The realization of what had happened began to sink in as he watched Karin cradle Juno in her arms before she and Kelia turned and walked away. Orion turned to watch Dolph play in the water. Even at the tender age of two and a half, his eldest was showing the power of his birthright as Prince of the Sea People. Dolph would need a firm hand to guide him.

Orion glanced at his friend, Kapian. “I want to know exactly what happened. Shamill was terrified of heights. She would never have traveled along the cliff path,” he stated in a grim voice.

“I will have a full report for you as soon as possible. I’ve also ordered construction of temporary safety railings along the cliffs. It will take time to repair all of the damage, but we will do everything we can to ensure such a tragedy does not occur again,” Kapian promised.

Orion nodded, lost in thought. There was too much to do at the moment to give in to the grief pressing on him. Shamill’s death would not only leave a void in his life, but also in the kingdom.

Chapter One

Present day—Yachats, Oregon:

Jenny Ackerly’s heart was telling her that her best friend was not dead—even as her head argued the opposite. The long, winding road through the redwoods along the Oregon coast felt a lot like her life over the last two years since Carly’s disappearance—a never-ending journey of twists and turns. She was ready for the road of life to straighten out a little so she could see where in the hell it was taking her.

“She isn’t dead. I would know, damn it!” she cursed under her breath.

The burning in her eyes and the sudden need to sneeze warned Jenny that she was about to start crying. She always did when she got within five miles of Yachats State Park.

She kept her eyes on the road as she leaned over the passenger’s seat, opened the glove box of her Subaru Outback, and pulled out a handful of napkins she had collected from various restaurants. She had already used up the last few tissues she had left from her trip here three months ago.

She wiped the escaping tears from her cheeks before loudly blowing her nose into the damp napkin. Reaching over, she stuffed the used napkin in the empty tissue box. Next, she twisted the knob on the radio and cranked up the volume. Another loud, shuddering curse escaped her when a new song started, and she recognized it as one of Carly’s favorites. Of course, that really turned on the waterworks. Pressing the button, she turned off the radio.

Grabbing another napkin, she dabbed at the tears threatening to blind her. If she started crying too hard, she would have to pull over onto the shoulder of the road. It wouldn’t be the first time she had been forced to park until she could compose herself. Unfortunately, the only thing crying did was make her face red and eat up precious time she could be using to find out what had happened to Carly. Blowing her nose once more, she angrily stuffed the used tissue into the rapidly filling box.

“I swear, when I find out who did this to you, Carly, I’m going to toast their ass. I’ll rip them apart, put them back together, ask them how it feels, and do it all over again,” Jenny vowed, gripping the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles were white. “If they made you su… suff… suffer at all, I’ll bury them in a fire ant bed in the middle of the desert and watch the ants devour them while sipping on an icy lemonade.”

Okay, she wouldn’t really, but she could imagine it. Yes, she could be a bit bloodthirsty when it came to anyone who hurt her friends. Jenny decided it was just part of having red hair. She was known to have a nice, even temperament—until someone did something to piss her off. Then, the temper she inherited from her dad came through in all its blazing glory.

Jenny slowed and turned on her blinker when she saw the exit up ahead. She turned left into the entrance to Yachats State Park, and followed the road to the ranger’s booth. A light drizzle had begun, but that wouldn’t stop her from her mission. Rain or shine, cold or fog, she would follow the last trail that Carly took. She would search every tiny inch of it in the hopes that maybe the weather and time had exposed some clue that all the police and volunteers might have overlooked two years ago after she reported her friend missing.

“How many?” the ranger asked when she pulled up to the window.

“Just one,” Jenny replied, handing him her annual pass.

The ranger studied it for a moment before looking at her. Jenny could feel his gaze move over her face. It didn’t take long for recognition to hit.

“You’re the girl who keeps searching for the one that went missing, aren’t you?” the ranger asked, leaning on the window sill.

Jenny grimaced and nodded. “Her name is Carly Tate. Has anyone found anything?” she asked, holding her hand out for the pass.

“Nothing. There have been a few people who still come out on occasion to look, but it's been a while,” the ranger replied with an inviting smile. “I’ll be off at three if you’d like me to go with you.”

Jenny pursed her lips together and shook her head. ”That’s okay. I don’t have much time today,” she lied.

The ranger’s expression drooped and he shrugged. ”Be careful. There has been some erosion along the trail leading down to the cove,” he said, handing her the pass and a parking permit. “Keep an eye out for sudden weather changes. Fog and rain can move in quickly at this time of year, making visibility difficult.”

“I will, thank you.”

Jenny didn’t wait for the rest of his memorized spiel. Having grown up in this area, she was aware of the sudden changes in weather and how to deal with them. Pulling up on the power button to close the window, she gave the car a little more gas than she meant to and felt the jar of the speed bump. With a grimace, she eased up on the pedal and slowly pulled away.

Once she was out of sight of the ranger station, she accelerated again. She followed the long, winding road and turned at the appropriate signs without having to read them. She knew where she was going. Pulling into the parking space, she noticed with satisfaction that there was only one other car in the parking lot, and it looked like the owners of it were leaving.

Jenny sat in her car and waited as the man and the woman argued over the map they were looking at. Tapping her fingers on the steering wheel, she impatiently resisted the urge to get out and ask the couple if they needed some help. Turning the engine off, she undid her seatbelt and turned to reach into the back seat for her jacket.

Straightening in her seat, she blinked back the tears that threatened again and released a deep, shuddering breath when the car next to her finally pulled away. Opening the door, she slid out, pulled on her jacket, and zipped it up before she closed the door. Out of habit, she gazed around her for a moment before she locked the door and pocketed her car keys.

Ever since Carly disappeared two years ago, Jenny hadn’t felt safe. She had moved away from the small coastal community of Yachats, Oregon, over a year ago in an effort to get on with her life. So far, she had to admit she wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Jenny slowly walked up the trail and paused at a fork. The path ahead of her did a loop through the forest and along the mountain. The one to the right lead down to the cove and beach area.

She quickly dismissed that area. Carly had left a map of the park in her car with the longest path highlighted in green and the words ‘I can do this’ written next to it. Jenny smiled when she remembered the added note ‘ice cream’ written and circled in black at the end of the trail.

Shoving her hands in her pockets, she continued past the sign pointing to the beach. She breathed in the rich smells of evergreens, moist soil, and frigid sea air as she walked. She scanned the path as her mind focused on what it would have been like for Carly.

“She would have been grumbling a lot,” Jenny reflected out loud after a mile along the trail.

Pausing to look around, she sighed. Tall trees, thick ferns, and sloping ravines greeted her intense gaze. It was possible that Carly had stumbled, rolled down the side into the ferns, hit her head on a rock, and then was swallowed by the thick vegetation. Carly was known for her clumsiness. It’s possible that there was no foul play beyond bad luck, Jenny silently admitted to herself.

“Surely someone would have found her if that had happened,” Jenny murmured before continuing up the narrow track.

Twilight was beginning to settle by the time Jenny drove back into town. It turned out to be another fruitless one with no new leads. She had one more stop before she’d call it a day.

Slowing down as she entered town, she glanced around for a parking space. Now that summer was starting and people were taking off for their vacation, there were quite a few tourists in town. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw two open parking spots in front of the local police station.

Turning on her blinker, she waited for several cars to pass before pulling into one of the empty spots. A quick glance at the clock told her it was later than she’d thought. She shifted the gearshift to park and turned off the engine. Staring straight ahead, she could see a woman behind the desk. It looked like she was getting ready to leave.

Jenny didn’t waste any time undoing her seatbelt and pushing open the car door. She hoped that the new detective she had been talking to for the past couple of months was on duty. She didn’t see him through the window, but there was a light shining from an office down the hall. Slamming the car door, she locked it, and strode across the sidewalk. She pushed open the door just as the woman behind the desk slid the strap of her purse onto her shoulder.

“Can I help you?” the woman asked, looking up at Jenny as she entered.

Jenny smiled, remembering the woman from the last time she was here. She hoped Patty would remember her as well. It took a moment before recognition hit. Patty threw a quick glance over her shoulder.

“Mike, the lady about the missing person is back,” Patty called out, walking around the desk. “He’ll be with you in a moment. He is on the phone.”

“Thank you,” Jenny said with an appreciative smile before she stepped to the side.

“No problem. I have to pick up my son. Have a good night,” Patty said with an easy smile before pulling open the door and stepping outside.

Jenny could hear the sound of a man’s voice speaking quietly in the background. She turned and walked over to stand near the front window and stare blindly out at the street. She didn’t want to give the impression she was eavesdropping on his conversation. Lost in thought, she didn’t realize he was finished until he spoke behind her.

“Good afternoon, Miss Ackerly,” Mike Hallbrook’s rich, smooth voice greeted.

Jenny turned to face the tall, handsome man who looked to be in his early thirties. Mike Hallbrook had one of those quiet, calm demeanors that drew you in and gave you a sense of security. The undeniable authority in his posture told her that while he may appear relaxed, he was always on alert.

She reached up to tuck a stray hair behind her ear and nibbled her lip in indecision. She felt slightly guilty for stopping by when it was so late. In a small town like Yachats, there wasn’t a huge need to have someone with Mike’s expertise on duty after hours unless there was a major crime. Still, she had to ask.

Jenny gave Mike a tired, apologetic smile. After ten hours of hiking and searching every nook and cranny along the trail, she was exhausted and disheveled. She was just thankful he didn’t appear to care that she was here so late.

“Hello, Detective Hallbrook. Thank you for seeing me,” she responded.

Mike Hallbrook nodded his head. “Anytime. What can I do for you?” he asked.

Jenny could feel his scrutiny. She could just imagine what he was seeing—damp and wrinkled clothing, dark circles under her eyes, windswept hair, and red cheeks. She looked like something that had washed up on the shore. With a weary smile, she drew in a tired breath before she released it.

“I was checking to see if there were any updates on Carly Tate’s missing person’s case,” she said.

“Nothing since the last time you came in three months ago,” Mike responded in a compassionate tone.

“Oh… The… The case hasn’t been closed, has it?” she asked.

Mike Hallbrook took in the tired, disheveled appearance of the woman standing across from him. A moment of regret flashed through him that he couldn’t give her the answer to the question she had been asking for two years—what happened to her friend. The fate of Carly Tate was still unknown—a cold case for their small town.

When the Yachats Police Department receptionist, Patty, had called out, as she left for the night, that the girl who was looking for the missing woman was back, Mike didn’t need the case number to know who Patty was talking about. There were not a lot of unsolved crimes in the area.

“No, the case won’t be closed until we know what happened to your friend. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot to go on. I’m continuing to investigate leads. Do you have any new information?” he asked.

Jenny shook her head and wrapped her arms around her waist. “No. Did you ever get a chance to talk to Ross Galloway again? He was the last guy Carly dated. I’ve been meaning to ask but kept forgetting,” she asked.

Mike nodded. “Yes. He has a solid alibi for the day Carly disappeared,” he replied.

Mike took a step closer when tears welled up in Jenny’s eyes. It was times like this that he hated being a cop. He watched as she bowed her head and pulled a tissue from her pocket. He heard her draw in a shuddering breath before she looked up at him. A faint smile curved his lips when he saw the determination in her expression.

“I left my phone number with your receptionist the last time I was here. Can you please call me if you find out anything?” she asked.

“I’ll make sure it’s the same number I have marked in the file. If we find anything, I’ll be sure to contact you,” he promised.

“Thank you,” she said, turning toward the door.

“Any time. If you think of anything that might help locate your friend, please don’t hesitate to call,” Mike added.

“I won’t. I plan to be here for the rest of the week. Thank you again for not giving up on Carly,” Jenny said, glancing up at him when he reached around her to open the door.

“We’ll bring her home,” he responded in a quiet tone.

Jenny’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. She nodded and stepped through the opened door. Mike watched her hurry across the sidewalk to a dark red Subaru parked out front. He stood in the doorway, lost in thought.

The case puzzled him. From the few conversations he’d had with Carly’s parents, he’d gathered that they had already accepted that their daughter was dead and would probably never be found. The cold, disconnected resignation in their voices was completely opposite to Jenny Ackerly’s grief. During his investigation he had learned that Carly had been a warm, cheerful young woman who got along with everyone. Hell, even Ross Galloway shook his head and said he couldn’t see anyone harming Carly.

“She is dangerous enough to herself,” Ross had said in exasperation.

When Mike had pressed Ross about what he meant, he discovered Carly was known as a lovable, but klutzy woman. Ross’ description of her setting his boat on fire—a very minor fire, Ross had hastily clarified—helped Mike understand some of the other references made about Carly by other people.

“Knowing Carly, she probably got lost in the woods or fell off a cliff,” Ross had said with a shrug. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

It was a possibility, but something told Mike it was more than a simple act of getting lost. The numerous search teams would have found something. If Carly had fallen from the cliff, the tides would have washed her up on the shore because of the way the cove was shaped. He had already checked the area.

Mike blinked when a resident drove by and honked the horn in greeting. He automatically lifted his hand to wave and realized he was still standing in the open doorway of the small police station. Shaking his head in resignation, he stepped back, closed the door, and locked it.

He was supposed to be off now. Instead, he turned back toward his office. Maybe he’d take another look at the file and see if there was something he’d missed. After all, it wasn’t like people just vanished off the face of the earth! There had to be a clue somewhere that would point him in the right direction of what had happened to Carly Tate.

Chapter Two

Jenny backed out of the parking space and turned south. She had only gone a block when her stomach rumbled. Grimacing at the reminder that she hadn’t eaten all day, she considered her options: stop at the grocery store or stop at one of the restaurants.

She quickly decided that fighting the crowds at the grocery store and then having to prepare something to eat was more than she could handle at the moment. That decision made, she focused on where to stop. She really didn’t feel like going alone to one of the nicer waterfront restaurants. What she really wanted was a nice cold beer and a platter of fish and chips.

Turning right at the stoplight, she headed for one of the pubs that was popular with the locals. Five minutes later, she was pulling into the parking lot of the Underground Pub. It didn’t look like much on the outside, but it had great food, cold beer, live music, and a nice ambiance.

Grabbing her purse and jacket from the passenger seat, she opened the door and slid out. The smell of the ocean mixed with the fragrant aroma of food made her stomach growl again in anticipation.

Jenny shut and locked the car door. Seagulls squawked as they landed on the docks in the hope of finding a meal from the fishermen cleaning their daily catch or from a generous patron willing to share a leftover French fry or two. A brisk breeze swirled around her, and she quickly pulled her jacket on when it sent a chill through her. Shouldering her handbag, she crossed the uneven gravel of the parking lot to the entrance of the pub.

Jenny pulled the door open and stepped into the dim interior. She paused as her eyes adjusted. Glancing around, she saw the band equipment set up along one wall. Wooden tables laden with condiments and scarred but sturdy chairs filled the interior to the point that Jenny was amazed the waitress could squeeze between them.

It was still early in the evening, and close to half of the tables were already filled with patrons. Jenny nodded to the waitress when she called out for her to sit wherever she wanted. Squeezing between two tables, Jenny made her way toward one in the back near the large set of double doors leading outside to the patio seating.

She slid into an empty seat with her back to the dark hallway leading to the bathrooms. From this vantage point, she could see the docks outside but was still far enough away from the band to keep from going deaf when they started playing. She glanced at her phone—almost eight o’clock. The band started at nine. If she were lucky, she would be out of here before then. Otherwise, her head would be hurting a lot more than it was at the moment.

“My name’s Dorothy. What can I get you to drink, darling?” Dorothy asked with a friendly smile.

“Beer, whatever local beer you have on tap is fine. I don’t need a menu. I’ll take the fish basket with fries and coleslaw,” Jenny said.

Dorothy tucked the menu she was about to hold out back under her arm and grinned. “The two piece or three piece, sugar?” Dorothy asked.

“Two is fine,” Jenny replied.

“I’ll bring you some chips and salsa,” Dorothy replied with another smile.

“Thank you,” Jenny responded.

She watched Dorothy take another drink order on her way back to the kitchen. Turning her head, Jenny stared out of the glass doors, lost in thought. She absently watched three older men as they stood around chatting. She smiled when she saw several pelicans and seagulls vying for a spot near the cleaning table.

“Here you go, sweetie,” Dorothy said, placing the frosted glass of beer and the plate with the salsa and chips down in front of her.

“Thank you,” Jenny replied with a grateful smile.

Dorothy stood and placed her hands on her hips. “Haven’t I seen you here before?” she asked with a frown.

Jenny paused as she reached for the glass of beer. “Yes,” she replied, not really wanting to talk.