- Pub. Date:
With the chaos of summer tourists and fall birders out of town, counselor Patience Price is looking forward to the quiet life she remembers. She longs for some peace. And an apple fritter. But the calm is cut short when a reality show sets up camp to film a special about ghosts on her little island. Now fans, reporters and crew have flocked to sleepy Chincoteague. Who knew ghost hunters had an entourage?
When two cast members are killed in a room at the local B&Ba room usually occupied by Patience's FBI agent boyfriend, Sebastianshe finds herself on the case. Sebastian doesn't want Patience ruffling any feathers but, as always, she can't help herself.Patience promises to let Sebastian handle the investigationhe is FBI, after allbut after a drive-by shooting, her wicked curiosity gets the best of her. And with the TV show forging ahead with filming, the list of suspects (and the line of food trucks) only grows. But has the shooter already flown the coop? And how do you find a killer when you don't know who the target is?
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About the Author
Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She lives in Green, Ohio with her patient husband and three crazy kids. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.
Learn more at julieannelindsey.com
Read an Excerpt
My phone vibrated on the Tasty Cream table between a dish with four French fries and a bowl that once contained the world's greatest hot fudge brownie sundae. I glanced away from the bowl and placed a paper napkin over the chocolate carnage to cover my shame.
"Covering that bowl won't erase the fifty thousand calories you ate. You know that, right?" My best friend, Claire, smiled and sucked on the straw of her chocolate malt, unaffected by the damage we'd done to our waistlines by ordering half the Tasty Cream menu.
"It wasn't fifty thousand calories." My guilty gaze swept over the napkin barely concealing the enormous bowl. "It was maybe a day's worth of calories. I can skip eating tomorrow and it will be like this never happened." Lies. Skipping meals wasn't in my repertoire of practiced disciplines.
"Mmm-hmm." Claire shook her cup and poked the straw in and out of the lid. "Or," she smiled wider, "you could train with me. We can rock and run together."
I rolled my eyes and rubbed my tummy. "I can't run a marathon, even if there is live music." My phone buzzed again and I flicked it with my fingertips.
"The Virginia Beach Rock 'n' Roll Mini is a mini marathon. It's right there in the name. Only three-point-one miles. You could run that far without breaking a sweat." She made a sad face. "It's no fun alone. Please?"
"Stop making that face. I swear, when you're sad a little fairy dies somewhere. It's not natural."
This time I lifted my phone when it buzzed. Telling Claire no was tougher than keeping my internal promise to only eat half the sundae. I read the text display and scrolled through the few messages I'd ignored during dinner.
"Sebastian?" she asked.
"Adrian." I smiled, though I shouldn't have. Adrian had been my one true love, until he left me for college. I plotted my revenge for a decade and then moved home when the FBI downsized me in July. Guess who'd also moved home? Yep. Adrian. We sorted things out after I saved his well-toned hei-nie from a murder charge and again after he saved mine from a crazy lunatic. Somehow, the saving and the sorting left things complicated. In some ways it had been easier when I wanted to shove an ice cream in his nose and be done with him. Now, I alternated between wanting to squeeze his middle or squeeze his neck.
I shifted in my seat. "He probably has another crazy plan to garner votes."
I needed to make peace with my waffling emotional attachment to my ex. The flip-flopping was exhausting, plus he was the town's homegrown golden boy and running for mayor. We were going to be sharing our little three-by-seven-mile island for the foreseeable future.
Most of the locals had watched Adrian and I grow up together and some still pined for us to reconcile.
"Adrian runs three-point-one miles before breakfast." Claire sighed. "I've seen him. It's nice to watch."
"So, ask Adrian to run with you." I sipped the tepid water in my glass, regretting my overindulgence more by the minute. I blamed the Tasty Cream's inviting old-time soda shop ambience. The minute I treaded over black-and-white checkered tiles and pulled up a little red cushioned chair, anything was possible. Except eating only half my sundae.
"Uh-uh. Adrian's your man." She held a palm up between us. "I don't care what you say. You loved him once and that means I can say hi to him and we can have fun together, in your presence, but I'm not running a marathon with that man, mini or otherwise, if you aren't there. It's not cool."
I loved her so much.
"Besides, I need time to talk to you." Claire's long dark bangs fell over her eyes and she pushed them away without making eye contact.
"About what?" My phone buzzed in my hand.
"Answer the poor man. You know how excited he gets about things. What's going on now?" She crossed and uncrossed her legs, shifting in her chair.
"He says he has a surprise for me."
Claire clucked her tongue.
"It's not that."
"What?" Her large brown eyes widened in faux innocence. "I didn't say anything."
I pulled a few dollars from my purse and placed them on the table. "I know what you're thinking, and it's not that."
"You can't know what he has for sure. It wouldn't be a surprise if you knew."
I followed Claire to the register to pay the bill. Her sea-green pedal pushers were amazing with black platform heels and a black silk blouse. I'd break my neck in anything higher than a three-inch heel, but Claire could outrun me in stilettos. It had happened more than once in Macy's. With heels, she was average height. Without them, she was stretching for five foot two. Her posture, confidence and general disposition screamed runway model. All those cotillions her parents forced her through gave her a taste for self-respect and fashion. The rest was lost in translation. Like the part where they thought she'd settle down and start a family. Claire had the crazy idea it wasn't 1955 anymore.
That reminded me. "Do you have plans to see the SWAT guy again next weekend?" She'd waited months for a member of the FBI's SWAT team to ask her out. They turned up at my birthday party together last weekend, but she hadn't mentioned him since.
She shook her head before I finished the question.
I handed the teen at the register my bill and some cash but fixed my attention on Claire. "Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?"
She shrugged. "That's part of it."
"I love talking about guys with you. Why on earth would you try to make me run three miles for that? Meanie."
Claire huffed while I stuffed the change from my bill into my wallet. "It's a mini marathon. Three miles, not thirty, and it's at the beach."
"I live on an island. I see the beach every day." Chincoteague, Virginia, was a delightful costal town adjoined to the mainland by a bridge, the harbor and the sky. The bridge seemed to attach us to the world but, in all honesty, Chincoteague was its own planet. We had a long history of traditions and customs. Some were quaint, and some were odd by mainland standards, but Chincoteague was the epitome of small-town living. Peaceful. Beautiful. Islanders were family. Granted, every family had its quirks, especially one with twelve hundred people.
"Come on. Virginia Beach." She threw her arms wide and held the door with one hip as I passed.
"They play live music. There will be tons of people there. It'll be like college all over again."
"I'm too old for college."
"Speak for yourself." She stopped short and sighed. "You're right. Never mind. It was dumb."
I touched her elbow. "It's not dumb. I just ate a gallon of ice cream. I should be begging you to make me run a marathon. Look," I lifted my shirt. "I had to unbutton my pants."
She laughed. "Put your shirt down before someone takes a picture."
A flash illuminated the evening.
I blinked through the dots floating in my vision. A man speed walked away from us, wearing a navy-colored Windbreaker and khakis.
"Who was that?" Claire asked. "I think he really took our picture. Unless he was shooting the Tasty Cream."
I turned to examine the ice cream parlor behind us. Its cone-shaped roof interrupted the beautiful island sky. The sun set earlier since fall had arrived and though it was barely past dinnertime, deep hues of smoky gray and violet above us suggested the hour was much later. A few stars shone in the distance over the water. I rubbed my eyes and turned in a circle, seeking some other item of interest a tourist might photograph. A family pressed open the Tasty Cream door and a heavenly mixture of sweet and salty scents drifted on the air to meet me. Fries and ice cream rolled in my tummy. A tummy now captured on film, popped button and all.
"If I find him, I'm demanding he delete that picture." I stepped off the curb and crossed the street to my apartment, with Claire at my side.
"Tell me about the SWAT guy. Wyatt. What happened with him after you left my birthday party?"
Claire sighed but didn't answer.
I rented the only available space on the island when I moved home during the summer. Thanks to Adrian and a silly rumor about the house being haunted, no one ever wanted to live there. The owner hadn't rented the space in a decade. Not the upstairs apartment I now called home, and not the downstairs unit, which had housed numerous failed businesses over the years. Now I lived in the apartment for next-to-nothing rent and Adrian owned the building. He used the downstairs for his campaign studio. Lucky me, living upstairs from temptation.
Except, I wasn't tempted. Not really. Not normally. Possibilities for a future with Adrian had dissolved long before our reunion this summer. Destiny had already dropped six-foot-sexy, Special Agent Sebastian Clark into my life. Sebastian, my personal hero. When Adrian was accused of murder this summer, I'd called Sebastian for advice. These days, I also called Sebastian my boyfriend. I adored him. In fact, I expected to see him soon. He rented a room by the month at Island Comforts, the local bed-andbreakfast, but spent more nights at work or my place than at the B&B. My tummy gurgled.
Claire looked at me. "You better hope that picture doesn't end up in the paper tomorrow."
I shook off her comment. Weirder things had happened to me since moving home. "You're dodging my question. What happened with the SWAT guy and what do you want to talk to me about?"
"I need your advice." She braced her palm on the exterior railing to my apartment and began climbing the wooden stairs. "Not as my best friend, but as, you know, the other thing."
Before the FBI downsized me from my human resources position, I'd finished my counseling degree and planned to work with agents under stress or those who had discharged their firearm or been injured in the line of duty, etc. It was a good plan. The FBI paid big money to contractors for those services. I thought hiring me would save the bureau a ton of money. They thought firing me would too. So, I moved home to chase my dream and open a private practice, which proved more complicated than one would think. Small towns. Nosy neighbors. Those sorts of things weren't always a counselor's friend.
"You want me to counsel you?" I worked to keep my voice flat. Any inflection on my part might be misinterpreted by her, and our friendship would take the hit. I slid my key into the lock, opened the door and motioned her inside.
"Finally!" Adrian rushed from my kitchen to meet us at the door. "I texted you four times. I was ready to come and get you. What were you doing over there for two hours, anyway? Never mind. I don't care." His stormy blue eyes were wild with pleasure. "I have a surprise."
"You mentioned that." I normally complained when he let himself in through the secret staircase hidden in the wall of my bedroom closet, but clearly this wasn't the time. I hadn't seen him so excited since he won the state spelling bee in third grade and got a new Nintendo with all the games.
"Sit down." He motioned us to the couch.
"Is he okay?" Claire whispered. "He looks a little crazed."
Adrian stood before us, rubbing his palms together. A sudden frown replaced his eager expression. "Where's Sebastian?"
"He had a deposition with internal affairs." Claire still worked with Sebastian at the FBI in Norfolk.
I envied that sometimes.
"What's going on?" A deep tenor sent tingles over my spine, and my cheeks ached with a sudden smile. Sebastian stood in my open doorway with flowers and a bottle of champagne.
Adrian's jaw fell an inch before he recovered some of his enthusiasm. "I have something to tell you guys."
"It's a surprise," Claire added.
Sebastian widened his stance. As a general rule, special agents didn't love surprises. "Go on."
Adrian cleared his throat, evidently thrown by Sebastian's entrance and gifts.
"Fine. I rented my home through Halloween night and it's all very hush-hush. I can't give you all the particulars yet, but details are coming, I promise."
"And?" Sebastian leveled his gaze on Adrian, who rolled his shoulders back.
"And I hoped I could stay here."
"With me?" My voice hitched on the second word.
"No." Sebastian moved inside and shut the door. He got a vase from under the sink and put the flowers in water.
Adrian gawked at me, waving his palms as if I could change Sebastian's mind. His panic compelled me to intervene, though I wasn't sure whose side I was on yet. I took a few deep breaths. Was the air thinner in the upstairs apartment? Getting in the middle of these two always made it hard to breathe.
I stood and faced the kitchen. "Um, well, let's think this through."
Sebastian turned narrowed eyes on me. I shook my head at Adrian. He motioned wildly again. I stood back up and stepped toward the kitchen. Sebastian glared from Adrian to me.
Claire giggled. The sound snapped me back to reality. This was my apartment. I decided who stayed here, not Sebastian. I anchored both palms over my hips and turned on Sebastian. Adrian took my seat on the couch and nudged Claire with his elbow.
"I don't see why he can't stay here. Is there a reason you have a problem with that?" I cocked a hip for good measure.
Sebastian looked past me to the couch, his expression blank.
I moved forward until the toes of my goddess sandals bumped Sebastian's shiny dress shoes. "Fine, then it's agreed. Adrian stays here. You can stay here, too."
The corner of Sebastian's mouth pulled down. "What if only I stay here with you and Adrian stays in my room at Island Comforts?"
Oh. Yeah. That was better. My moment's pause was enough to settle it. Sebastian tossed his key over my head.
"Sweet." Adrian jumped up and headed for the door.
"Hey," I turned to Adrian. "What was the secret you texted four times to tell me about?"