Coastal Investigations Book 1
January 31, 2023
From Romantic Suspense BEST-SELLING and AWARD-WINNING Author
What happens when a former FBI analyst quits her job to become a PI and ends up partnering with the man who left her fourteen years earlier? In Sheila Kell’s riveting novel of secrets, deceit, and romance, two people rush to find a killer while reckoning with their growing attraction.
Cassie McKay was tired of being passed over as an FBI field agent. She quit her job as an FBI analyst, moved back home with her mother, and took a job as a PI. Only she hadn’t expected her partner to be the one man who’d left her years before.
Jack “JD” Walker had done a lot wrong in his life, but he hadn’t killed the mother of his child as the police believed, nor had he expected the only woman he’d ever loved to come to his rescue. The two work diligently to prove JD’s innocence while someone is determined to make JD pay.
|Deadly Betrayal is the first book in the Coastal Investigations series. If you enjoy a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat read, you’ll love this installment of Sheila Kell’s new romantic suspense series.
Coming early 2023
Cassie McKay couldn’t go through with her new investigative job. She had lost her marbles, believing she might succeed. During that time of insanity, Cassie quit a relatively good job with the FBI and moved hundreds of miles away. For what? An investigative job she had no experience in whatsoever. Even the FBI had passed her over, not once, but three times in her application to become a field agent. What had made her think she’d be any good at a similar job on the civilian side? Cassie had been a competent analyst for the bureau. Why hadn’t she been able to settle for what she’d had?
Anger coiled within her. Mike McKay was why she needed to make the change. Her ex- husband, Mr. FBI Field Agent Extraordinaire, along with his asshat field-agent friends who had made her days unbearable after the divorce.
This morning, Cassie avoided the world by snuggling deeper into the comforter, pulling it over her head, like she was prone to do many times as a child.
She’d call Gus, her new employer, and apologize for not beginning the job, then search for a position more suited to her skillset, someone in need of Cassie’s analyst skills, which didn’t include helping to find cheating spouses. She winced at that. Gus Fontaine, Cassie’s new boss—wait—not new boss since she didn’t plan to work there, had pre-warned that some of their work was following spouses. They too had bills to pay, he had told her. Plus, it was investigative work.
Since the name of his business was Coastal Investigations, one would easily conclude they conducted investigations of any sort.
“I heard that alarm go off five minutes ago, missy. Now get your booty up,” her mom said from somewhere near the bedroom doorway. “It’s like school all over again.”
Cassie flipped on one side, pulling the cover down as she did, only to see her mom strolling down the hallway like it wasn’t early enough to still be in dreamland. Her mom had a point. Cassie had never been a morning person. This time, Cassie didn’t have to be because she wasn’t starting the new job. So, she could reset her alarm to wake in time to call Gus, then go back to sleep.
Yet, her mind remained awake at her new life.
She had been back in her hometown for a week. Coastal Mississippi had grown. When her family had moved from Gulf Islands, Mississippi, to Morgan City, Louisiana, nearly thirteen years earlier, casinos had been a fledgling operation up and down the coast. Although there were none
in her hometown, it was big business, which brought with it more significant enterprises. Indeed, she could find work somewhere in the neighboring cities, Ocean Springs and Gautier. She would not fail.
Rolling on her back, Cassie let out a defeated groan. Starting over, at twenty-nine, she didn’t want to fall flat. She’d made a tremendous leap by leaving an excellent job that utilized Cassie’s talent of seeing something others couldn’t, only to sign on for something she had wanted so badly but failed at attaining more than once. She had quit a marriage that had been good, in most respects, if you didn’t count the self-centered asshat who did not support her in wanting to become an agent. She’d sold a cherished home, had little money in the bank—now left living with her mother. Her life truly and utterly sucked.
“I heard that groan. Get up and get in the shower, young lady,” her mom shouted from somewhere near the kitchen.
The heavenly scent of coffee drifted down the hallway. God bless her mom. Maybe she’d bring a cup of Joe to her in bed to show how much she had missed their time together.
Bathed in light, she slammed her eyes closed, one forearm slapping over as an extra shield. “Mom,” she whined like the old schoolgirl begging for five more minutes before she had to rise.
“Don’t ‘Mom’ me, young lady. You have a job to get to. Now get up and get busy.” “Missy.” “Young lady.” Some things never changed. There were a few more her mother had
hidden in that secret mom stash of southern endearments.
“I’m not going.” There. She admitted it out loud. That made it legal or something. Right? “I didn’t raise a ’fraidy cat. You will get your heinie up and get ready for work.”
Even with her eyes covered, Cassie sensed Patricia Brown, her eccentric mother, leave the room. She guessed that meant no coffee in bed. Moving her arm a bit for her eyes to acclimate to the brightness, she caught the light shift as Patricia walked down the hallway to the master bedroom.
The older woman’s voice, tinged with a South Mississippi accent, carried from the hallway. “If you’re quitting, the least you can do is face your boss and tell him. That’s the polite thing to do.”
Polite. Polite. Polite. That had been drilled into Cassie from the womb. She had to admit her mom was right. Gus had been so kind to her. First by hiring her, then by working with Cassie on the move and start date. He deserved an explanation and not for her to blow him off. After rethinking her inexperience, Gus probably already realized his mistake in hiring her. He’d be relieved. So would the other investigator he said she’d work with at times. No one enjoyed breaking in a rookie.
With a heavy sigh, she braved it and tossed the covers aside. Gooseflesh popped up on her arms, getting her moving.
Rifling through the clothing she had yet to unpack, Cassie shouted, “Mom, turn on the heat. It’s cold in here.” Come on, housecoat. Please let me have packed it in one of these suitcases. It had been cold when she left Virginia. Surely, it was with the clothes she had taken with her instead of packing for later.
Making a complete move, Cassie only brought for immediate needs; the remaining clothes and household goods were in transit to a storage facility. They would remain there until a home of her own was found. Cassie hadn’t planned to rush into it until she knew if the job would work out. Now she knew her answer. While stepping off the area rug to tackle another suitcase, she jumped back with a screech. The floors were like ice. Rubbing her hands up and down both arms, she longed to lose herself back in bed, under the soft covers. With a sigh, she turned back, trying to remember what she’d packed in each of the three suitcases, as she had hung only suits and blouses. Cassie refused to step on the floor until discovering which bag held slippers and her robe.
“A good hot shower will warm you while the house heats,” her mother said in a sing-song voice.
Curse her mother. Somehow, Patricia figured out Cassie’s concern when they had chatted the prior evening. Somehow, this was all planned out on how to get Cassie out of bed and moving. Being a mother who loved her child, Patricia tried those annoying matronly tricks to get her child motivated enough to get up.
A familiar scent—just as heavenly as the coffee— met Cassie’s nose. Once again, she groaned in defeat.
Her mother won. “Is that—”
Before Cassie could finish the question, Patricia interrupted her. “Yes, it is.”
Cassie jumped into action, tearing apart the suitcases as her feet took turns lifting off the floor to avoid the chill. There was nothing like coffee and her mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls to get one moving. In record time, she showered and donned a navy suit and a cream blouse with large blue flowers to meet Gus and resign from the job she had yet to start.
“Your hair is still wet,” her mom said as she handed Cassie a cup of coffee and pushed a small bowl of sugar cubes toward her.
Cassie, not stopping from loading a giant cinnamon roll on a saucer, responded, “I’ll dry it after this. It won’t take long.”
The much-needed coffee took second place to the bit of heaven that had nearly melted in her mouth. She moaned at the taste and memories each bite of the cinnamon roll evoked, especially the image of breakfast with her parents as a child. Eventually, she added a cube of sugar to the coffee and tasted it. Looking up from the cup, she caught her mom watching her. “What?” she asked before taking another bite of breakfast.
“Why are you quitting this job before even giving it a chance?”
Dropping the last bite of the cinnamon roll, she grumbled, “I’m not having this conversation, Mom.”
Cassie licked the glaze off her fingers and then slid off the barstool. Grabbing the mug, she turned toward the guest bedroom with an ensuite. In there, Cassie applied a light coating of makeup, accenting her golden-brown eyes. After quickly drying shoulderlength brown hair, strands were pulled back into a twist.
Assessing her appearance, Cassie positioned a few strands down to frame her face. Deciding the look would do professionally, she nodded and exited the bathroom. Navy shoes and purse in hand, Cassie strode to the living room.
Before stepping outside, she yelled over one shoulder, “Bye, Mom. I’ll be home soon.” She didn’t quite grab her mom’s response but thought she heard, “I didn’t raise a quitter.”
Focused on how to break the news to Gus professionally, she ignored the passing scenery. It didn’t matter. She’d have sufficient time to check out all the changes to her hometown.
Minutes later, off Highway 90, in the small Coastal Investigations parking lot, Cassie sat stunned, wondering if she really had to do this. People just noshowed jobs all the time. Could she do that to Gus? If it had been a different job where the boss was a stranger, maybe she’d have been able to do just that.
She practiced her speech once again. “Gus, I appreciate this opportunity and the trust you placed in me—”
Fear skittered through her at the unexpected tapping on the driver’s window. As her heart slowed its beat to something near normal, she pushed the button to lower the window.
“Sorry, ma chère,” Gus, a true Cajun, said. “You did sit here for ten minutes like you lost.
Come in. We open.”
When the words of her resignation wouldn’t come, she decided to move inside the building to better discuss it. “Let me grab my purse.”
Gus nodded. “Good, good. You be just in time to meet da other PI.”
Cassie closed her eyes and breathed out slowly. How could she do this with someone else there? Maybe even watching….
She opened the car door, planted a smile, and followed Gus into the small clapboard building. Gus had told her they lost the building during almost every major hurricane, and he rebuilt it the same each time. Cassie would have used brick, but people were as they were. She had yet to learn why he built it in this small town instead of in the neighboring big cities. He’d told her he got plenty of business from the cities, so she guessed location didn’t necessarily matter in the scheme of things.
They entered the office, and he stopped in the middle of the reception area. “Now, where be
Closing the door behind her, she followed Gus’s search of the room. Seeing no one, Cassie assumed this “boy” must have gone to the back of the office. This relaxed her and gave her the time needed to tell Gus she wouldn’t be working for him without an audience judging her.
Gus turned to her. “Aw, there he be, chère.”
Before she could turn, a deep, gravelly voice said, “Cassie?”
She spun around, knowing who the voice belonged to, even though she’d last heard it on the man at seventeen years of age. Cassie’s breathless response of only “JD” undoubtedly expressed her surprise along with that flitter in her heart.
His vivid blue eyes turned icy cold. “Who is breaking the restraining order now?” Confused, her brow scrunched up. “What?”
Without looking away, he shouted, “Gus, what is she here for? I’m not working on a case for her.”
The stern voice hit like a slap to the face. What had happened to the JD she grew up with? The man she had one day swore she’d marry. Then Cassie remembered how he had abandoned her when he went off to college, and a fit of familiar anger and hurt surged within her.
“I gotta told you something, yeah. Well, I knowed ya been friends when you were young’uns, so I hired her to work with ya. I hoped it git rid of da prickliness.”
JD snapped his head to Gus. “She works here?”
As she turned back to Gus, she caught the man’s slow grin. “Sure thing, cher.”
She glanced back at JD. As handsome as ever. He sure had filled out nicely as a man. His shoulders were broader, the lines on his face distinguished, and the aura of danger still hung on him.
JD swiveled his head to stare at Gus as if they had concocted this meeting to taunt him or something.
She needed to explain that she wouldn’t be working there after all. “JD, I—”
He pointed at her, anger radiating from him. “I don’t want to hear anything from you.” He turned to Gus, his finger now pointing at the older gentleman. “I can’t believe you, Gus. Here I thought you liked me.” He exhaled loudly. “You can cram this job up your ass.” JD spun and exited, slamming the door behind him.
Cassie stood frozen, shaking. She wasn’t sure what the hell had just happened. Turning to Gus, she caught the hurt on the older man’s face. “Gus? I don’t want to cause you problems. Maybe I should be the one to quit.” The irony of that statement swept through her.
Gus shook his head and turned to her. “Sorry, chère. I never thought. Did somethin’ happen between you two?”
Something had definitely occurred. JD had been her first lover, the love of her life. “No. I mean, well, I moved to Louisiana with my mom my senior year, and JD started college.” She shrugged. “I never heard from him again.” Although he had promised to keep in touch with her, suggesting driving over on long weekends to hang out. It had given her hope they would make it to marriage and a family. Yet, JD never lived up to his word.
“Chère, ya good workin’ wit him?” Gus’s words, mixed with English, Cajun, and Cajun French, kept Cassie focused on what he said. If she wanted to stay in this job—and she realized that no matter her fear earlier, she wanted this job—she’d have to put up with JD. Provided he didn’t turn out to be an asshat like her ex, she could do this. Cassie wanted to be an investigator, and if the FBI didn’t want her, she’d go where someone did. She nodded. “Sure.”
“I’ll give him a bit. He gits over tings right quick. We’ll—” The door shoved open, and she whipped around.
JD smirked at her. In a hard voice, he didn’t hold back his anger. “Cassie, dear, if you hit me with another restraining order, I’ll show you what breaking it means.” Then he once again slammed out of the office.
Restraining order? Another? She turned a confused gaze to Gus.
The older man looked at her with concern and a bit of accusation. “Chère, Lawd, ya have a restraining order ’gainst JD? Ya say ya no see him since school.”
In JD’s eyes, Cassie had seen genuine anger and hate, and it had all been directed at her. Hate. She didn’t understand it. So, they hadn’t kept up with each other. Good grief, it had been almost thirteen years. What the hell had happened?
“Chère?” Gus asked softly.
The restraining order, Gus had asked about it.
Clearing all emotion from her outward appearance, she shrugged. “I have no idea what he’s talking about.” But she had a gut feeling regarding it.
Jack Daniels Walker, known as JD to friends, sat in his truck in the Coastal Investigations parking lot, stewing. He had handled things all kinds of wrong, but nothing had prepared him to see his little Cassie. The only person who hadn’t treated him like scum for being the town drunk’s son and living in a rundown trailer outside of town while they were kids and then teenagers.
So, when his old man called him on his first day on the college campus and explained the restraining order, JD had been crushed. Cassie’s stepdad, or so his dad said, had taken out a restraining order for Cassie against him. He’d been hopelessly in love with her. That was when his anger had gotten the better of him. Even though he had sworn he’d never do it, he got rip-roaring drunk, started a couple of fights, and destroyed the dorm common area. Needless to say, he’d been kicked out of college soon after. Even as he drove his piece of crap truck home in shame, JD couldn’t believe the one friend he thought he had would lie about him. She wouldn’t have told them they had had sex. At least, he had believed she wouldn’t tell. It had been memorable. Her first time.
JD guessed it to be a good thing that her family moved to Morgan City, as he was coming home to a drunkard for a father and a shit life. Only his return had been worse than expected. Dear old Dad had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette that caused a fire, destroying the rusty old trailer. Being out in the country with only a volunteer fire department, there had been no saving either his old man or the trailer. It probably made him a bad person, but that hadn’t destroyed him nearly as much as Cassie’s betrayal.
“Well, hell,” he growled to his empty truck. “Gus, you cagey old fuck.” The Cajun had been his savior once, and it appeared he was trying to screw up his life now.
JD slammed his hands on the wheel. “Son of a bitch!”
Like most people, he needed a job. He didn’t need this job, though. Problem was, he liked this job. He liked Gus more than he’d liked his old man. Although, he also liked dental surgery more than he had liked his old man.
“Screw it.” He inserted the key in the ignition and started his truck. The tires crunched on the layers of oyster shells as he pulled out of the parking lot. He wanted a drink—big time. While most bars were closed this early in the morning, one could get a drink any time of the day or night at
one of the casinos. Just hop on Highway 90 East or West and, within a half hour, one would run into one of the large barges built up to resemble casinos in Vegas, with free-pouring alcohol.
Instead, he turned closer into town—CI sat on the fringes—to impose upon a friend. He looked at the clock on the dashboard. “Shit. The fucker is probably still curled up in his bed.”
Once outside Vince’s office, he parked and pushed his truck door open, and exited. His friend lived upstairs from his place of business. The criminal defense attorney generally kept bankers’ hours. At least, JD accused him of that, like a good old joke.
Opening the door, he caught Jannice at her desk, keeping the office together. The older woman, maybe approaching sixty by now, always had an easy smile for him.
“Good morning, JD. It’s good to see you.”
He knew what she was thinking—you’re not on my schedule, so don’t fuck up the day. She wouldn’t use those exact words, but she’d mean them. No tolerance for pleasantries this morning, he breezed by her desk. “I need to see Vince. Right now.”
Vince would keep him from the bottle. He had helped pull him from alcohol years ago. She stood. “But, JD. Vincent is—”
JD pushed open the door to Vince’s office. “I need to speak to you right now.”
Vince slowly stood, looked at him, then tilted his head toward someone else in the room.
Shit. The fucker had been working. Before he could stumble out an apology, Vince, with his one-thousand-watt smile that won many over in a courtroom, said, “It’s perfect that you’re here.”
JD doubted it, but he’d play along.
“Mr. Dobson and I were just finishing up. Would you care to share with us your investigation findings?”
Well, hell. This task, JD could do. Although, he felt sorry for the poor bastard. “I followed Mrs. Dobson every night you called to tell me she was leaving.”
Reciting from memory, he continued, “On two of those occasions, she did visit her sister. They didn’t leave. No one else came in or out. Since I had to follow her, I couldn’t say if someone entered before she arrived or left afterward. If they did, I never caught them.”
“I hate her sister,” Mr. Dobson stated. Almost hissed.
JD nodded, understanding the sentiment. “Let’s see. One evening, she spent at the library. I surveilled her inside, but no one approached her, nor did she approach anyone. She pulled book after book from the research section.” He shrugged. “She returned them all to the shelves, so I can’t say what topic she researched.”
“She is obsessed with botanical stuff. She’s always talking about what plants she wants for our yard.”
“On the other three occasions, she visited a woman named Naomi Strand.”
Mr. Dobson nodded. “That’s her friend. I’m relieved. No cheating. Huh. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking. My Mimi would never cheat on me.”
JD hated to drop the truth on the man, but that was what he had hired him to do. “Well, that’s not entirely the truth.” He looked up at Vince, who looked as if he already knew the answer. The attorney nodded.
He looked back at Mr. Dobson. “I have what few photos I was able to take. They were of your wife and her friend, Naomi, embracing.”
When the client looked confused, JD sighed. He hated this part of the job. “As in tongues down each other’s throats and hands roaming over each other’s bodies.”
Mr. Dobson jumped up from his chair. “My wife….” The man shook his head. “No. No.
“I have photographic evidence at the office I can show you.”
The client pointed a finger at JD. “You destroy that evidence.” He turned to Vince. “And you’re fired.” Mr. Dobson stormed from the room.
JD turned back to Vince. “So,” he drawled with a curt smile, “how’s business?”
They stared at each other for a minute, then both bust out laughing, and his need for a drink vanished.
Sobering first, JD took a seat. “I’m sorry I lost you a client.”
Vince shook his head. “It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. Besides, he won’t divorce her now and suffer the embarrassment that she left him for a woman. Homophobic fucker.” He leaned forward, forearms propped on the desk. “Now, what brings you here this early?”
Vince straightened, and his eyebrows rose in question. “Susan?”
JD’s gut knotted at that thought. And, just like that, he needed a drink again. He shook his head. “No. Her, I might strangle.”
Pointing toward himself, Vince smiled and reminded JD, “Hello, an officer of the court here.”
“Fuck that. Anyhow, it’s Cassie.” Excitement lit Vince’s eyes, and JD wished he had kept the news to himself. “Yeah, Cassie. I think her last name is McKay.” At least Gus kept referring to the new investigator as McKay.
“Well, why didn’t you ask? How is she? What’s she been up to all this time? Is she married?
She must be if her name has changed.”
Wishing he had asked those questions, JD put his hand out, palm toward Vince. “Whoa, hold up there, counselor. I didn’t ask a thing.”
“The restraining order.”
Vince shook his head, exhaling a heavy sigh. “The restraining order you never saw. The one your bastard of an old man told you about. The restraining order never served on you. The restraining order that expired over a dozen years ago.”
JD growled. “I know it expired years ago. And my old man said he was able to intercept it to keep them from serving me on campus. I never got a chance to see it.”
Vince slapped his hand on the desk with a loud thud. “You believed your old man—who told you daily that he hated you—saved you embarrassment? Come on, JD. You were with the PD for over nine years. Didn’t you once check the story out?”
“No.” More than once, he had wanted to do just that. Only, his heart hadn’t been able to take more betrayal and rejection if the story and RO had been confirmed.
“I can’t believe I’m friends with a chickenshit.”
JD bowed up like a rooster and felt the fight in him waken. “Hey!”
Vince snapped his fingers. “I know. We need to call Bryce and have a guys’ night.” “Is it even legal for you and Bryce to be friends? He is the DA, after all.”
“It’s not illegal.” Vince shrugged. “Unethical might come into play when we’re on the same case. But who am I to balk? I represent criminals.”
“Aren’t attorneys supposed to assume their clients are all innocent?”
Vince shrugged. “Some are, and some aren’t. It doesn’t matter. Everyone deserves a fair trial, and I aim to see my clients get it.”
JD pointed his thumb over his shoulder to the door. “Then why do you take in cases like that asshole who just left? Haven’t you had enough divorce cases to last a lifetime?”
“Because we’re a small town and criminals are usually poor. And I have bills to pay.”
JD’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out and checked the incoming caller’s number. He had expected Gus—which he hadn’t decided whether to answer or not—but it displayed a number JD didn’t recognize. Since he had reached out to several people for investigative questions on active cases with CI, he held up a finger to forestall Vince’s following comment.
“Susan?” He straightened. His heart nearly stopped, and he lost focus on all around him. It couldn’t be.
“We need to talk. Can you come over this evening? I’m back in town.” “Where’s my son?” he ground out. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine. You may see him tomorrow. Tonight, we need to discuss a few things. Without interruption.”
This meeting felt all kinds of wrong, but, by God, he wanted to see his son. He had nothing else to say except “Okay.”
As she rattled off the address, he leaned forward, snatched up the pen on Vince’s desk, and scribbled the information on a legal pad. He knew it—her parents’ place.
After disconnecting, Vince just raised an eyebrow in his “create an uncomfortable silence” mode. Initially relieved that she had materialized, JD paced, but anger raged in him second after second. All he could think about was Henry Kyle. Was he being taken care of? Who was taking care of him? Was he getting enough food, rest, play? He stopped in front of Vince’s desk. “She wants to meet. The bitch, who stole my son away from me five years ago, wants to meet. I can’t even see my son until tomorrow.” He needed to throw something. Instead, Vince pushed his chair back just in time as JD swiped all the contents from his desk.
That single eyebrow arch of his friend’s made JD want to jump over the desk and throttle Vince.
The intercom beeped, and Vince calmly pushed the button on his phone. “It’s okay, Jannice.
I’m going to need you to clear my schedule for today.”
As Jannice clicked off, mumbling about the client they had just lost, JD ran his fingers through his hair.
“I’m sorry.” He dropped into the chair. “You don’t need to cancel your day.”
“Sure I do.” Vince began picking up items from behind his desk. “Besides, I was supposed to be in court this morning, but my client pled out at the last minute. So, it was mostly a free day.”
Once his friend had the large mahogany desk back to rights, he gave all his attention to JD. “Tell me about this meeting.”
JD’s ire caught, just thinking about the woman and all she had cost him. “I could kill her for what she did.”
JD and Vince were able to convince Bryce Jacobs to can his day and spend it together. The three went to the golf course in the neighboring town to work out JD’s anger. He’d have preferred the gun range, but Vince suggested the physical exercise of walking the course.
At the ninth hole, Susan’s name finally came up in conversation. “What do you think she wants,” Vince asked. “It sounds so secretive.”
“How the fuck would I know?” JD walked to the tee and took a practice swing before slicing the ball to the left. “Dammit.” He had not been focused on his game.
“Do you think she wants to get back with you?” Bryce asked as he walked to the tee. “Doubtful,” JD said. “All I know is I want to see my son and she won’t let me do it until
tomorrow. I could kill her for that.”
Bryce swung, hitting a nice line drive. “You do remember I’m an officer of the court, don’t you?”
“Vince said the same thing earlier. To me, you’re my friends.” JD knew the importance of the jobs his friends held, but when they were together like this, jobs didn’t exist in his mind, only friendship.
“We are that,” Vince said before stepping up to the tee. “Now, tell us about Cassie.”
“What? Cassie’s back?” Bryce asked. “Did all your women decide to return at the same time?” “Fuck you,” JD said as they walked to find their golf balls. “They’re both my ex-women. Or
have you forgotten?”
“I haven’t,” Bryce said. “But you have a chance with them both now. Who do you choose?” “It’s not a matter of choosing. They both fucked me over.”
“I’m telling you,” Vince said, “that restraining order was probably bogus. Your dad was an ass.”
That he was. “Enough. Let’s play ball,” JD growled.
They split, each to where their ball had landed and played the rest of the course. Vince, of course, beat JD and Bryce handily. The day curved his needing a drink to solve his women problems.
After thanking his friends, he drove back to the marina to shower before visiting with Susan. Figuring out what she wanted nearly made him insane. JD only wanted to see his son and find out where they had been all these years. Would his son even recognize him? Oh, he hoped so.
Waiting to meet with Susan at eight p.m. was about to kill him. He fiddled around in his office before sitting on the deck and drinking water, his desire for a drink gone. At 7:40, he left the marina and headed to Susan’s parents’ home. Correction, it was her deceased parents’ home. They had died recently, and he had expected Susan for their funerals, but she hadn’t shown. It had been his last hope of seeing Henry Kyle again. When he reached Susan’s, he noticed all the lights were out. Was she even here yet? Shrugging, he walked to the door and knocked. No answer. She had best not stand him up after that phone call about needing to see him. Fuck, fuck, and fuck.
He wanted to see his son, so he pounded on the door and yelled, “Susan, open this fucking door right now!”
The first thing Cassie did was slam down her purse on the kitchen island and yell, “Mom!”
Throughout the day, Cassie’s temper had flared at her mother. Something happened and she wanted to know what. JD said something about a restraining order against him. It definitely hadn’t been her choice.
Her mother, sitting on the couch with a magazine in her hand, quietly responded, “I’m right here, darlin’. What’s got you all fired up? Did your first day go that badly?” Patricia dropped the magazine on the coffee table and stood, approaching Cassie. “You need wine.”
Wine, really? Cassie capitulated. Maybe a glass would be nice. “Okay,” she said in an apologetic tone. She never should have yelled without even looking in the same room—manners and all.
Sitting on a barstool, Cassie kicked off her shoes. She kept quiet while Patricia poured them two glasses of red wine.
After setting a glass in front of her daughter, Patricia said, “Okay, now tell me about your day.”
Her day. “Let’s see if I can sum this up. The other investigator quit when he saw me. Gus and Nan went on vacation, leaving me with a part-time office assistant named Daisy that I’ve never met.” There. That summed it up in two sentences. It had been a good and bad day.
She had enjoyed going over the investigations with Gus and Nan while learning all their resources. Then, they had broken the news they were heading out for a few days, leaving her alone with the mysterious Daisy, who hadn’t been scheduled to work today.
“What do you mean the other investigator quit when he saw you? That sounds a bit dramatic, dear.”
Recalling the hurt of having her heart torn apart a second time crashed into Cassie with a wave of despair.
“JD,” was all she mumbled.
Her mother’s wine glass stopped midway to her mouth. “As in J.D. Walker?” Cassie nodded and fought back the tears of rejection.
Her mother walked around the island and hugged her shoulders. “Oh, honey. Tell me what happened.”
“He slammed the door in my face after ghosting me at college! Oh, and he said I had a restraining order against him.”
“Restraining order?” Patricia asked. “What’s he talking about?” “I don’t know, but he seemed pretty convincing.”
“Start at the beginning and tell me everything.”
So, she did, bit by bit, repeating the restraining order.
A chunk of fear had lodged in Cassie earlier that her parents may have filed the order to keep the two apart. While they never stopped Cassie from seeing JD, her mom and stepfather had hoped she’d find someone with a future. They’d also not thought JD had the potential Cassie knew existed in him. “That’s what I’m trying to find out?” She hesitated before asking, “Do you think maybe Isaac did something?”
Patricia shook her head. “No. Your stepfather wouldn’t have done that. We knew you loved him. Who were we to argue against high school sweethearts? Remember, we’d been high school sweethearts, but a misunderstanding pulled us apart, and it took way too many years to get back together. Besides, we didn’t know if your long-distance relationship would last.”
She believed her. Patricia and Isaac’s story had been romantic in how they’d found each other again. Sadly, Isaac’s heart attack left her mother alone way too early in life.
Her mother nodded. “Go change your clothes. Let’s go down to the Crab Shack. A good dozen boiled crabs will improve your mood.”
And, they had. The two had laughed and cracked and cleaned crabs like pros. Back at home, after a long night of talking, Cassie decided her mother, while perfect at mothering, also excelled at driving her berserk.
“It’s not that I’m not glad you moved back here, sweetie,”—her mom continued as if she had been spouting some words of wisdom before that statement— “You just need to get out and quit worrying about me.”
Being no different from many children, Cassie worried about her mother after Isaac’s passing. Patricia had been alone for so long that Cassie feared loneliness could manifest into mental depression or worse. So, after leaving the FBI, Cassie chose to move back to Mississippi to be with Patricia. Only to find things differed from her expectation.
“At this time of night, you should be out—” Patricia took a sip of wine from the crystalware Cassie gave her on Mother’s Day, then winked. “—picking up men.”
Cassie pushed herself off the barstool from the kitchen island. “Good God, Mom,” she exclaimed.
Cassie couldn’t discuss this with her mother. Was she picking up men? Really? “You’re twenty-nine, sweetie, not sixty.”
Cassie wanted to hold both hands over her ears like a child who heard a loud noise. In the short time she had been home, the same motherly advice had been repeated several times. Once, Cassie had tried to turn the tables on Patricia with something similar. Only, her eccentric mom, in Boho clothing that a fifty-year-old woman should not wear, but somehow pulled it off, smiled, and said she and her friends did just that. The initially gross image of the woman who birthed her bumping and grinding at a club had been, thankfully, replaced with Patricia at bars that catered to an older clientele. At least that was what her mom had said.
Cassie still remembered all the lies told about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, so she wasn’t so sure.
“Sit down.” Her mom patted the bar stool Cassie had just vacated.
Glancing at the clock to see it was after eleven p.m. and feeling frustrated because she wasn’t sleepy, Cassie continued chatting with the mother-turned-free spirit. She had a difficult time reconciling the two.
When her right butt cheek had almost touched the wooden seat, her mother hit her with that one statement parents spout to drive their children crazy.
“You’re my only child, and I want grandbabies someday.”
The butt cheek never hit the seat. Maybe parents said that to end the conversation and steer their children away. Anything was possible with parents. Sadness swamped Cassie because she had never told her mother about the pregnancy and miscarriage. If she had, Patricia never would have said such a thing.
“You’re so uptight. You’ll never find a new man like that,” her mother continued.
This relationship advice came from a woman who had been married three times. Granted, two men had died. Those deaths hadn’t been her mother’s fault. Cassie shuddered, thinking of the second man Patricia had married.
“Mike was an asshole,” her mother said before tossing back the last of her wine.
Almost as an automatic reaction, Cassie nodded. Her mom had been right in that regard. Mike McKay had been the biggest mistake of Cassie’s life. Before she could delve into that mess, her mother stood.
“I’m off to bed, sweetie.” Patricia rinsed the wine glass, left it in the sink, and exited the room.
Cassie smiled. How ironic on that flip from childhood to adulthood. Now she worried about the people her mom went out with, which Cassie never met.
Turning off the light, Cassie moved through the darkened living room to the spare room. After her mother’s third husband had died, Cassie’s mother moved back to Gulf Islands and purchased a small cottage near the Gulf of Mexico. While Patricia appeared to enjoy her company, something told Cassie she was cramping the woman’s style.
“Add finding a home to my priority to-do list,” she mumbled. Pushing open the bedroom door, she groaned at the suitcases that still needed attention. Knowing she wouldn’t sleep until the clothes were put away and the room tidied, Cassie set to it. Unable to sleep after that, she went into the kitchen in search of a snack. Dinner had been filling, but now nearing midnight, Cassie’s stomach growled. Her thoughts returned to JD and how to handle the problem. He couldn’t quit. Gus raved about him, and Nan called him their adopted son.
After some chocolate chip cookies and milk, she headed back to the room. Inside again, she jumped when her cell rang. Cassie lunged for it and hit her knee on the bedside table. As “Dang it” spewed from her mouth, she checked the phone screen.
Gus Fontaine. Assuming it must be critical, considering the time, Cassie clicked to accept the
“Hi, Gus. Is everything okay? Nan? Your vacation?”
“Ma chère, no need to worry about us. Me and Nan be okay.”
A sigh of relief later, she straightened. A client? Cassie had been trying to prove to Gus that she would be a great investigator for him. After all, he had hired her knowing her background with the FBI hadn’t been as an agent. That prestige belonged to the asshat ex-husband. Yet Gus assured Cassie he trusted her abilities. She wanted to show him that his trust had been well placed. Only, they didn’t have a tough, sinkyour- teeth-deep type of case open.
“That’s a relief. What’s going on?”
“I sorry I call so late. I need a favor. It’s not business. This would be a personal favor.”
“Sure.” Anything for Gus and Nan. She had only recently met them but could tell that two more solid characters didn’t exist. “I was still awake.”
She could visualize Gus nodding while saying the words to stretch out the pause before his next sentence. Maybe she had agreed to something disgusting, or loathsome, or downright illegal. No. Gus wouldn’t ask for anything illegal. At least she hoped not.
“I gots a friend who drank too much. The bar called for someone to pick him up. We just too far away. Would you be a dear and do dis for me? I know I asks much but dis boy, he means much to me.”
Pick a drunk up from a bar. She could do that. While her ex had taught her many moves to protect herself, she hadn’t mastered a fireman’s carry. So, if this friend passed out, he’d have to stay there until he woke. “No problem. Where and who?”
“Oh, chère, you saved me much worry. JD is at the Beer House.”
She froze and prayed. Please don’t let it be my JD. Please don’t let it be my JD.
“JD?” she squeaked.
“Yes, chère. Is dat a problem?”
Knowing what had happened, it surprised her that he asked at all. “If he lets me, I’ll do it.” “Oh, whew, chère. I worry for a sec you let his temper stop you. He lives in da boat. Don’t let
him fall in da water.”
Her anger flared. Only if she didn’t push JD in the water first. “I’m on it. Have a good night.” Cassie paused, glancing at her watch. “What’s left of it.”
After a sign-off from Gus, Cassie clicked off the call and tossed her phone on the neatly made bed. Maybe she’d have a better time getting him to talk when he was drunk. Yet, she couldn’t imagine a drunk JD. Had he come to that? After all the loathing of his parents’ drinking, he swore to her he would never drink. Of course, they had been teenagers, and people changed. But still, she didn’t want him to have turned into his father. He still held part of her heart.
She bypassed the coat in the closet she’d have typically worn this late November evening and grabbed a down jacket. One worn often in DC. Her first few winters up there had been brutal. Cassie’s friends joked about her bundling up. Instead of the snow she had encountered in DC, here, the wind off the Gulf could knock someone flat.
Grabbing gloves, she exited the room, then turned down the hall to tell her mother she was leaving. Seeing no light streaming from underneath the bedroom door, she decided on a note. Tomorrow, Patricia would remind her she didn’t need to leave a message, but Cassie knew her mother would worry without it, especially when Cassie left home in the middle of the night when mostly drunks were on the road.
Honestly, she didn’t look forward to avoiding drunk drivers. Yet, she would have crawled through cut glass to do something for Gus. He had placed so much trust in her.
She had been hopeful that at Coastal Investigations she’d have actual investigations. They did a lot of work for attorneys, but it wasn’t the same as in the FBI. There wasn’t a lot of meat in that work.
After climbing into her Jeep, she turned on the heat and rubbed both gloved hands together, waiting for the Jeep to warm.
During the short drive, she couldn’t think of what to say when she saw JD. Gulf Islands had been her home until her mother remarried, and they relocated to Louisiana. It had been the summer after her junior year of high school. After JD had made love to her, he then forgot about her.
It wasn’t like they had had a long-standing love affair. No, just close friends for most of their growing up years. While they had met when she was in the first grade and boarded the wrong school bus, he had been a second-grader.
Cassie might have fallen in love with him right then and there, but at six, she saw him as a hero. For the next few years, she’d search him out when the boys would make fun of him for being trailer trash, and JD would be off on his own.
At this time of the night, parking in town wasn’t too terrible, but she still wasn’t in front of the bar, which could pose a problem if JD needed help walking to the Jeep.
Knowing the bar closed early during the week, Cassie wasn’t surprised at the locked door. She hoped the bartender prevented JD from leaving with anyone else. While she’d be glad not to see him, Gus might be disappointed in her.
She knocked on the solid wood door, then banged hard enough for someone to hear the sound inside. It took quite a few moments before the door opened.
A biker-looking dude tossed a primarily white kitchen towel over his shoulder. “Cassie?”
After she nodded, he opened the door wide and thumbed over his shoulder. Her gaze followed the direction indicated. A mop of dirty blond hair covered a head, face down on the bar. At least he had cushioned his nap with his arms.
“Thank you,” Cassie said, stepping inside. How the hell was she going to get him to her Jeep? As if reading her mind, the biker dude said, “I can help get him to your car.”
That solved one problem. Getting JD on the boat would be even worse. Yet, she wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. “Thanks. Has he been here long?”
Biker dude reached out his hand in a gesture to allow her to move first. As they made their way to JD, he said, “Yes. He didn’t start drinking until late, though.”
“Close to ten. I was so shocked that I checked the time.”
Two hours, and JD was knock-down drunk. She sighed. Yes, he followed in his parents’ footsteps.
“Wait. What do you mean shocked?”
The movement turned her attention from the biker dude. JD had roused. He looked at her, and his eyes widened in surprise.
“Cassie? Is that you?” JD stopped and looked at the bartender. “Frank, I said call Gus.”
“I did,” Frank assured him. “He’s out of town. He sent”—Frank gestured toward Cassie— “her.”
Cassie stepped closer. “I know I’m the last person you wanted to see, but Gus, like he said, is out of town. He asked me to give you a ride.”
His gaze roved over her body. Hunger flared in his eyes. “You can give me a ride anytime, sweetheart,” he said crudely.
Frank handed JD his jacket. “Are you okay with getting to the car?”
JD strode toward the door and waved over his head. “Good night, Frank.” Then exited, leaving Cassie watching in shock.
Hurrying after JD, she told Frank, “Thanks, and goodnight.”
She opened the door to find JD retching on the sidewalk. Selfishly, she wanted to prevent her Jeep from smelling of vomit if any got on his shoes or clothes.
With nothing to do but wait, she glanced around.
Since all bars had closed, the streets were sparse of pedestrians. A few people had to skirt around them with a woman crying, “Ew.”
JD leaned on his arm against the outer wall of the bar. “Cassie. Cassie. Cassie. You’re breaking your order,” he slurred.
She shook her head at his nonsensical, drunken statement. Again with the restraining order. She had to get to the bottom of that, but first, bringing him home was her only priority. Thankfully, the marina was close.
Getting JD to and in the Jeep had been a quiet and easy affair. He dropped off to sleep as soon as he buckled in. Cassie let him snore. No productive conversation comes when one of the parties is drunk and disruptive.
She parked at the dock. Gus had texted her the dock, slip, and boat information in case JD was out. Searching in the dark didn’t excite her, but he needed out of her Jeep.
JD jumped. “Am I home?” He blearily looked around. When his eyes caught her, he smiled. “Cassie. Why?”
He slurred, but she caught the words. Just not the meaning. “Come on. Let’s get you to bed.” She cringed at those spoken words.
“Finally, I’ll have you back in my bed.”
Twice tonight, he had drunkenly made lewd comments at her. JD indeed had changed. Instead of answering, she undid her seatbelt and exited the Jeep. She heard him doing the same. While turning to check on him, Cassie saw a police car crawling through the lot. Even if he deserved it, Gus wouldn’t appreciate her allowing JD to get a drunk and disorderly charge.
She rushed to the passenger door as JD finally stumbled out. The cops lit the light on the top of their car but left the siren off. No, no, no.
“JD, get over here and hug me.” It was all she could think of on the spur of the moment. Maybe that would keep him from trouble. She’d no idea if he had followed his father in arrests.
JD smiled. “Now we’re talking.”
Thankfully, he didn’t try to kiss her with that vomit mouth of his. He hugged her tight enough she thought would have broken bones.
“I’ve missed you,” he whispered in her ear.
Before she could process that, the police car stopped next to them, and two patrolmen exited.
She pushed away, but not far. She hoped they would have driven by them.
“JD?” one asked.
JD whipped around and almost lost his balance. “Dutch?” He looked at the other officer and did that head jerk thing meant to be “Hello.” He and Dutch came together and shook hands.
While blazingly obvious JD had too much to drink, the slur had disappeared. Mostly. “Sorry, JD,” Dutch, a friend from high school, said softly. Then, more sternly, “Get in the
JD stood there. “Really?”
“Come on, don’t make this harder than it is.”
“Well, that makes it easy. Leave me be. I’ll be sober and fine tomorrow.”
Cassie hoped the two men had a strong enough friendship for Dutch to overlook drunkenness in the public incident.
“It’s not going to be all that easy. Now, get in the car.” JD shrugged and turned.
“I’ll get you out,” she said since she had no idea who to contact at this hour to help. “Don’t sweat it,” JD said. “It’s just the drunk tank tonight. I’ll be out in the morning.”
“No, JD,” Dutch said sympathetically. Then, with a voice of authority, Dutch said, “We need you to come with us to answer some questions about the murder of Susan Miller.”
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