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Undertow (EBOOK)

Undertow (EBOOK)

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When Jill Morgan left Tempest Island after high school, she didn’t know what she wanted to do the rest of her life. The only thing she’d ever loved was writing fiction, but that was a pursuit with no financial guarantees. So she did the responsible thing and got her college degree, then a job that provided a good living, and she wrote in her free time. She never expected to become a bestseller, but her books—written under a pseudonym—brought her millions of happy readers.

And a stalker.

When her identity is compromised, Jill decides to disappear until the cops can identify the man threatening her. Her first thought is returning to Tempest Island, one of the many places her father was stationed with the Navy, and the only one that had ever felt like home. Plus, she had connections there who could help her remain off radar. It was just a matter of time until the cops had her stalker in custody and Jill could get back to normal. But being on Tempest Island again brings back old memories and creates some new ones, forcing her to take a hard look at her carefully crafted life.

Can she build a new life for herself on Tempest Island? Or will the stalker end that journey before it even gets started?

Look Inside

Safe Harbor

“All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” – Toni Morrison

Chapter One

Portland, Oregon

Jill Morgan—Kate Coleson to her readers—signed the book and gave ‘Becki with an I’ a big smile as she passed it back to her. The fortyish woman giggled and bounced, causing her ample chest to go on its own jaunt.

“Moooooommmmm,” her probably preteen daughter whined. “You’re embarrassing me.”

Becki rolled her eyes at her daughter and fixed her brilliant smile on Jill. “Thank you so much, Kate! You’re my favorite author, ever. You inspired me to write my own book.”

Becki launched into her confused plot and descriptions of the thirty or so characters she had appearing in the first chapter because the reader needed to know everyone or they wouldn’t ‘get’ the story. Jill just froze the smile on her face and thought about the book she was currently working on and the load of laundry she’d forgotten in the washing machine that morning.

“Hey, maybe we could meet for coffee sometime and you could tell me what you think,” Becki said, finally bringing her monologue to an end.

“Mom, stop bothering her,” the daughter said. “No one wants to read your book, and I’m sure everyone asks her that. I want to be a singer, but I’m not going to harass Taylor Swift at her concert next month to help me.”

Jill wanted to tell the daughter she was right about all of it, but that wasn’t allowed. However, she was impressed with the young girl’s situational awareness, logic, and character assessment, although she suspected Becki’s opinion of her daughter’s abilities wasn’t as favorable, especially when the critical eye was focused on her.

“I’m sorry,” Jill said. “I don’t really have the bandwidth for that sort of thing. My schedule is very tight.”

“Did I tell you I drove all the way from Seattle for this?” Becki persisted.

Jill nodded. At least twenty times already.

“This has totally made my year,” Becki said.

“Enough, Mom! Take classes like everyone else. Now can we go?”

Jill held her smile in place as Becki finally allowed her frustrated daughter to pull her out of the bookstore. As soon as the door closed behind them, the store owner, Wanda, clicked the lock in place and flipped the Closed sign around.

“I’m closing early,” Wanda said and leaned against the door with a sigh. “Why is it always the last one?”

“It’s intentional. Then they don’t have to rush off because there are more people waiting.”

“So they think they have you captive.” Wanda shook her head. “I like people. I’m good with people. You’ve seen me work a room. But sometimes… Anyway, I have wine breathing for us upstairs. And I might have those chocolate-covered strawberries you like so much.”

“Will you marry me?”

Wanda laughed. “If only we were built that way. We’d make the perfect couple, although I’d be a bit of a cougar.”

At thirty-three, Jill was at least a decade younger than Wanda, probably closer to two, but in addition to winning the good gene lottery, the older woman wasn’t afraid to spend her store profits and alimony to keep people guessing.

Jill followed Wanda to her suite above the bookstore, headed into her half bath—which looked like something you’d find at the Ritz—and removed the wig of glossy short black waves. Her real light brown hair tumbled down her back, and she could practically feel her scalp breathing. She left the wig on the bathroom counter, then headed for the living room where she plopped down on an overstuffed white chair and gazed out the huge reflective glass window that looked over the street.

People milled up and down the sidewalks, taking in the sights, shopping, and restaurants in this artsy little area of town. Wanda had picked the location because of the quirky surroundings shortly after her divorce from husband number two. Husband number one had been a ‘young and foolish’ mistake that she’d had annulled almost as soon as they’d said ‘I do’ but number two had stuck for decades. She’d gotten a settlement large enough to pay for the building outright and remodel it to serve as both business and cool modern living quarters, and she still had some socked away for when she got ‘too damned old to deal with people.’

“How’s art class going?” Jill asked after she took a sip of the truly excellent wine along with a bite of one of the chocolate-covered strawberries.

Wanda sank into the chair next to her and sighed. “You know those pictures that mothers all over the country have on their refrigerators—the ones their kindergartners do?”

Jill nodded.

“Worse than that.”

Jill grinned. “So take up something easier?”

“At this point, the only thing easier would be crayons and a coloring book.”

“Always an option.”

Wanda waved a hand in dismissal. “I’ve never been good at artsy things. It’s a shame really, because I have an artist’s spirit and I love being around that creative energy. But I accepted long ago that any time I step into artistic pursuits, it has to be at the hobby level only. And an extraordinarily bad hobby level at that. But I do find it relaxing, which I suppose is the point as I don’t need to make money from it.”

“Well, since most artists doing it to pay the bills no longer find it relaxing, that seems a fair enough trade-off.”

Wanda smiled but Jill could tell it was a tiny bit forced. Her friend looked out the window and the corners of her well-Botoxed lips turned down a tiny bit. She tapped on the side of her wineglass with one long gold nail.

“What’s wrong?” Jill asked.

Wanda’s eyes widened a tiny bit, and then she shook her head. “I don’t want to say.”

Jill frowned as she stared at Wanda, who couldn’t quite meet her eyes, then tensed.

“You got one of them,” Jill said, her words not a question because she already knew the answer.

Wanda nodded. “The card was dropped through my mail slot. As soon as I saw the envelope and that it was addressed to you, I knew. It just felt creepy. I know it sounds stupid because a pink envelope shouldn’t be scary, but it was.”

It didn’t sound stupid at all to Jill. She’d been terrified of pink envelopes for five years now.

“Did you open it?” she asked.

“Yes. I wasn’t going to, but then I thought if I go hiking my loud mouth into the police station, all demanding and stuff, and find out it was from a normal fan, then they’re going to take things even less serious than they do already.”

Jill held in a sigh. It wasn’t that the cops didn’t take her stalker seriously. It was more that they couldn’t do anything about him—mostly because no one knew who he was. And even if they could locate him, a restraining order was the extent of her options because he hadn’t threatened her. Which was completely different from feeling threatened, which she absolutely did. The cops knew that too and didn’t think the stalker’s intentions were good either, but ultimately, their hands were tied by limited facts and an even more limited legal system.

“What did it say?” Jill asked.

Wanda tapped on her phone and passed it over to Jill. “I knew you’d want to know—well, not want to, but want to—anyway, I took a picture.”

Jill looked down at the image of the card—the same card she’d gotten fifteen times, now sixteen—and felt her chest tighten. It was a simple white card with a red heart drawn on the front, made to look like crayon. It was also mass produced and available in every drugstore and retail center in the country. The inside was blank—when new—so that someone could personalize their message. The cards she received were always personalized using a red crayon to match the front. She flicked to the next image, knowing Wanda would have taken a shot of the inside.

My heart bleeds for you.
When will yours finally bleed for me?

She sucked in a breath, trying to steady her racing heart. This message was so much worse than any she’d seen before. They’d always been about when she and the stalker were united as one. This…this felt like something else entirely. Had he finally tipped over the edge of threats and into preparing for action?

You’re safe here.

She just needed to keep reminding herself of that. Wanda might be eccentric and artsy, but she was also wealthy and originally from Texas, which meant her security system was top-notch and she had a gun in the Gucci handbag on the coffee table in front of her.

“After I took those pictures, I put the card and the candy in a plastic bag and marched it right down to the police station myself,” Wanda said. “Sat there for thirty minutes waiting on that Detective Ward, but I wasn’t leaving until I showed him personally.”

“What did he say?”

Wanda threw her hands in the air. “Same thing he always does—they’ll run it for prints, but that you shouldn’t get your hopes up.”

“They’re not likely to find any, given that the last fifteen were clean.”

“When was the last one?”

“Three months ago at the book signing in Seattle.”

“He’s escalating,” Wanda said quietly. “Less time in between and that message… It’s not like the others. You know it, I know it, and that damned Detective Ward knows it.”

Jill gave her a helpless shrug. “What can we do?”
Wanda sighed. “It’s times like these I wish my grandpappy was still with us. He’d have you sitting in the middle of the street at 2:00 a.m. while he sat smiling on the roof with his sniper rifle just waiting for that cowardly pervert to show.”
“You’re saying your grandfather would use me as bait?”
“I’m saying he would successfully use you as bait. Dad always said Grandpappy was the only person who went to war in Korea and had fun.”

“I’m not even sure what to say to that.”

“No one else is either. Look, I want you to stay here tonight. The guest room is already made up. We can order takeout, drink more wine, and argue the merits of who has the cutest butt at the coffee shop.”

“We’ve already had that argument and it’s definitely Jason, but they’re all way too young for us.” Jill shook her head. “If the stalker has finally decided to make his move, this is the first place he’ll look since he knows I signed here today. He could be down there on the street watching this place, or he could have been that guy I signed three books for—the one with the weird bushy eyebrows.”

“Too obvious.”

“Regardless, the last thing I want to do is put you in the middle of it.”

Wanda frowned, but she knew Jill was right. “But you’re so secluded where you are, and you have that long drive.”
“It’s only a couple hours, and I’ll be there before dark. After that situation in college, I became a ghost. The house is in a trust and my information isn’t available to anyone but my attorney. Same for utilities. And I don’t go by my birth name or Kate there. No one has ever connected the three. If the stalker had, he would be sending these cards to my house instead of book signings, which are all listed on my website.”

“I know but…all those trees, and no neighbors within screaming distance.”

“I like secluded because then if my neighbors Airbnb—which everyone with a view seems to be doing these days—I don’t have people constantly flowing around me. The wig and the glamorous makeup have worked fabulously for Kate, and no one has connected her with Jill. I’m glad I started with them from the beginning of my career.”
Wanda shook her head. “Sooner or later, as Jill, you’re going to run across that person with a keen eye for faces and they’re not going to matter.”

She shrugged. “I already have a time or two. I just smile and say I get that a lot and move on. It’s not like anyone can prove it. And before you start worrying about me leaving here, I’m putting the damned wig back on before I go, as always, and I’ll take it and the makeup off before I get home. I’m very careful, Wanda. I’ve been careful for years.”
“What if he follows you when you leave?”

“If I don’t notice someone trailing me for two hours, then I’m dumber than the big-boobed girl in the opening scene of every horror movie and deserve to be killed.”

Wanda pursed her lips. “That’s not funny. I know from all those damned self-help books I read that your joking is a coping mechanism, but I also know you’re scared because I’m scared and I’m not even you.”

Jill reached over and squeezed Wanda’s arm. “You’re right. I am scared. But I’m also very careful. Staying here only makes things worse for you, and I have to go home at some point anyway.”

“Unless we figure out that marriage thing. Then you could move in.”

Jill smiled at her friend. The two of them had taken to each other the second they’d met four years before when Jill had done her first signing at Wanda’s store. Ever since, they’d been thick as thieves. But Wanda also knew that Jill would never stay if she thought it put Wanda on the line.

“I don’t think we’ve dated long enough for marriage,” Jill said. “And we still haven’t had the finances discussion.”

“If we agree on no kids, then the finances are a lot easier.” Wanda sighed. “I know you have to go home. Have to be in your space to create, and ultimately, staying here doesn’t fix anything. But I need you to know that you’re always welcome. Any time. Without warning. Whatever. Just remember if you turn up on Monday or Thursday, I have Pilates that night and I’m pretty sure my instructor was a prison warden. I drink heavily after class, so a bottle of wine in your overnight bag is always appreciated.”

Jill smiled. “You’re the best friend ever. You know that, right? And I promise I’ll text you when I get home.”

Wanda shook her head. “Someone can conk you over the head, use your face to open your phone, and send me a text so I don’t send out the troops.”

“Your faith in humanity is overwhelming.”

“I read your books. I want FaceTime from your living room.”

“I have an empty pizza box on my couch.”

“No one is perfect.”

Wanda waved at Jill as she drove away. It was only 5:00 p.m. and her friend had plenty of daylight to make the drive home, especially on a Saturday, which meant no commuter traffic to speak of. Wanda knew that Jill had the best in security systems in her home because Wanda had recommended the company who’d installed it. And everything Jill had said about her being impossible to track back to her address, even if someone did know her real name, was also true. But none of it stopped the overwhelming feeling of foreboding that swept through her.

Never one to give in to ‘fancy’ unless it was fancy dress, jewelry, or food, Wanda headed through the back door and into the building, then stood in the middle of the retail area, hands on her hips. Everything in there was still as perfect as she’d left it an hour ago. She had a full night ahead of her and absolutely nothing on her calendar. Even worse, now that Jill had mentioned pizza, Wanda was craving it, but figuring her Pilates instructor would be able to smell it on her two days later kept her from pulling out her phone and putting in an order.

She spent another five minutes wandering around the shop. Then after deciding there was absolutely nothing about her business that needed her attention, she finally gave in to a night of pizza and TV and headed for the stockroom that housed the stairs to her apartment. She pulled out her phone and hit the pizza place on speed dial—then reminded herself to never let her Pilates instructor see her phone. When she stepped into the stockroom, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye.

She only had a second to realize her mistake—she hadn’t set her alarm as soon as she’d walked inside. All she managed was a scream before something struck her on the back of the head and everything went black.

What readers are saying about this series:

"Makes you want a beach cottage of your own."

"The characters are so real, you immediately become friends."

"I know when I open her books to leave my day free as I won't feel like putting it down."

"I couldn't read it fast enough."


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