Some days life is wonderful. Other days it’s murder.
Former Marine August Reyes is home for good, haunted by images of bloodshed. He meets up again with Elle Styles, the girl he’s never been able to forget.
When August was eight and Elle was six, she changed his and his mother’s lives before she and her widowed mother left the Wisconsin vacation town. Twenty-two years later, she’s returned to Trouble Bay with her four-year-old daughter, but they’re only staying for six weeks. Elle and August are different people now. He sees life through darkness, and she sees it through light. And light and dark don’t mix well.
Someone else was changed by Elle when she was young. A woman who lives by her own rules. Rule Nr. Two—Don’t let anyone cheat you—is in play now. And this might lead to Rule Nr. Three: Don’t kill anyone … unless killing is necessary.
The town of Trouble Bay is about to live up to its name. Life there can be murder… Even when you’re falling in love.
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READ AN EXCERPT:
“Mama! There’s a lady waving at us.”
The sunlight was dimming, the sky turned from pearly to smoky. But peering out of the back window, Elle could clearly see a dark-haired lady on the edge of the road ahead of them waving. Instead of slowing, her mom steered toward the middle of the road.
Usually they knew most of the people, at least in winter. In summer, when the tourists were there, it was different. Not this woman. At age six, Elle was smart enough to know she’d never seen her before.
As they passed the woman, her mom drove slowly. Elle’s face was so close to the window that she felt cold air, and she could see the sadness on the woman’s face. More than that, she saw fear and desperation.
That was the same way Elle had felt inside her tummy at her daddy’s funeral.
As the car cruised past the woman, her large eyes connected with Elle’s. Pleading.
And then Elle saw him, at his mom’s side. The boy. Looking straight at her, too. Even in the dim light, she could tell he was holding back a cry. Like she’d done at her dad’s funeral when everyone said what a brave girl she was. And she wanted to yell at them that she wasn’t brave. She wanted to lie on the ground of the cemetery and kick her feet and punch her fists and scream and scream and scream.
But she didn’t do it. She’d promised her mom she would be brave.
No one could help her get her dad back. But maybe this one time, she could help the boy.
Her dad had joined the Marines to help people. She couldn’t go and fight a war, not when she was so little, but she could try to help the lady and the boy.
She turned to her mom, bending forward as far as she could in her child’s seat that she hated because she wanted to be a big girl. “There’s a boy with her. Mom, he looks cold.”
Her mother continued to drive, the car already past them and continuing down the road.
“Mom, the weather lady said it was freezing out.”
“Honey, I can’t stop.”
“Yes, you can, Mom. You have to.”
Fear built up inside Elle, a terrible, terrible fear. “What if the boy freezes to death?” Her voice rose. “What if no one else comes by to save them?” She could see the side of her mom’s face and the tightness of her mouth, the way it looked just before she blurted out, “No.”
Then her mom’s chin quivered. Just a tiny bit, but Elle’s heart thumped harder.
“What if they die?” Elle said even louder. “Like Daddy? What if they die like him?”
“Honey…” Her mom slowed, and she steered the car to the side, and she made a laugh that was a cry and a laugh together. “Okay, we’ll go back. You look behind us, and if you see anyone besides the boy and the woman, I want you to tell me. Okay?”
“Okay,” Elle said, even though when she looked behind her, she could only see the top of the booster seat. But she knew how to undo the seat belt—her first grade teacher called her “precocious,” which Elle thought must mean smart. So she unclipped the belt and pushed off the seat, then climbed onto the backseat and looked out of the window.
“Elle!” her mom said.
“I have to see. You said I have to see.”
And she did see. The boy and the woman holding hands and looking at them. The woman looked afraid. The boy just looked like Elle thought a soldier would look. Standing straight and still. As if he didn’t know what would happen, but whatever it was, he would be brave like her dad had been brave.
The car stopped, and the window on the passenger side rolled down. As it did, Elle scrabbled down the backseat to the door on her mom’s side of the car as her mom said, “Can I help—”
Elle opened the door.
“Mom, they’re cold. Can’t you see that?” She jumped out onto the road and ran around the car, the cold an icy slap on her cheeks. “Come inside!” she called as she headed toward the woman and the boy. “Come inside. It’s cold out here, but it’s warm in our car.”
Her mom groaned.
The woman shook her head, and tears spurted in her eyes. But Elle’s gaze had already gone to the boy. He still had that brave look on his face, but now his lips pressed together and quivered.
The woman looked to the open window, at Elle’s mom, then back at Elle. She spoke in a thick voice, like grandma’s butterscotch pudding. “Your mama is worried. I won’t go into the car.”
“But you’re cold!” She stared at the boy. “Tell her.”
“I’m not cold.” The boy’s teeth chattered, then the chattering stopped, and she knew he was biting down on his teeth.
Elle turned her face up to her mother’s car. “Mom?”
Her mom mixed a laugh with a sigh. “Get in the car. All of you, please.”
The boy went in the back with Elle and the woman in the front passenger seat. They stayed on the side of the road, the car not going anywhere. The boy’s teeth started to chatter though Elle could hear the heater blasting. She noticed his mittens were made of yarn, not insulated like hers were.
He saw her staring. Scowling, he stuck his mittened hands inside his sleeves, his shoulders hunching up.
Was he mad at her?
She couldn’t tell, but boys were odd. Her mom said boys were odd, too, so that must be true.
Except for her daddy. Her daddy had never been odd, but she wished he’d never gone away to another country to save people there. She wished he had stayed home and played with her and kissed and hugged her.
She wished there were no more wars ever. No more killings. And no one’s dad or mom got killed in wars ever again.
The tears were coming, and she turned forward, her face scrunched to hold them back. The boy’s mom had been talking while she had looked at the boy, but her voice was low and soft, and she talked different from them. The words seemed to be the same as theirs, but it sounded like she was talking with her mouth full.
If Elle hadn’t been looking at the boy so hard, her attention on him, maybe she would’ve made out what his mom was saying. She leaned forward and paid attention now, just in time to hear her mom sigh.
“I’m afraid you picked the wrong time of year to come here,” her mom said. “In summer, yeah, the restaurants and hotels need help. Not now. Not this time of year. I don’t—”
A sob came from the boy’s mom. She put her hand over her face, and her head was shaking.
“Are you all right?” Elle’s mom asked.
The woman didn’t speak right away. Elle was aware of the boy next to her, and she was pretty sure he was holding his breath. Waiting to hear what his mom said next.
Slowly, her hand came down from her mouth. Slowly, she said with a heavy voice, “I have a little money, but I don’t know if I can pay for the car. There has to be something I can do. I can clean. I can—”
“What you can do,” Elle’s mom said, her words crisp, the way she talked when she made a decision, “is get your stuff from the car and put it in mine.”
“We will pay you.”
“I don’t need your money. Elle and I will be leaving Trouble Bay soon, but I have an idea about a place where you can stay. Maybe a job, though I don’t know if it will work out.”
“Thank you. You are very kind.” There were tears in the boy’s mother’s voice. She turned to the back of the car. “August—”
He was opening the door already. “I’m going to the car.” He got out.
Elle didn’t wait to hear what else the moms were going to say. She was sliding out of the car after him. “I’ll help you. Wait for me! I’ll help.”
And inside her car, there was a sound that was either a sob or a laugh. She didn’t know which mom it came from, but she wasn’t going to look back to see who it was.
Instead, she was chasing after the boy.
Edie Ramer weaves a beautiful tale of family, love and coming home. ~ PaulineMichael, NIght Owl Reviews