In with the TideBy: Charlee James
A Cape Cod Shore Novel
Thank you to the Tule Publishing Team, it has been a pleasure to work with you. Special thanks to Sinclair, Michelle, and Meghan for their dedication, support, and late-night emails.
To Darcy, who left a permanent imprint on my heart, your love and sweetness will never be forgotten.
Damien’s bike roared inland, the salt water wind whipping at his face. His father was dead. He had tried to feel something—anything—when he had received the phone call, but all he could muster was the numb realization that he was truly alone. The last blood tie, the final rope tying him to his past, severed.
His stomach clenched when he passed the dirt drive that led to his childhood home. It was miles from downtown, with a driveway that snaked toward a rundown Cape house. He could still feel the sharp bite of a belt licking his vulnerable skin, still smell the cheap alcohol curtaining the stale air. He ordered his mind to go blank, a trick he learned in the Marines to cool his nerves when shells exploded into the ground around him. Damien wanted to get into town, rent a room for the night, and fall into a dreamless sleep. He knew the latter wouldn’t happen, not with shadows and ghosts lurking around every corner and the funeral looming only days ahead.
He was thinking of stopping at Clancy’s for a bite and grabbing a six-pack from the convenience store when he rounded the bend, squeezed his hand over the grip, and came to a skidding halt. The small sedan was broken down in the worst possible spot—a bend in a blind drive. White smoke clouded the air around it. The driver stood on the side of the road, back turned to him, a thick fall of wheat-colored hair cascading over her shoulders. Damien forgot to breathe. Another ghost.
Lindsey Hunter turned toward him. It was as though someone landed a one-two punch square in his gut. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think. The familiar green eyes that matched the pines lining the roadway shot him a wary glance. The message was clear. Stay back. She didn’t remember him as he had her. And why would she? He was just the scrubby kid on the school bus with second-hand clothes. The kid that tried to steal the contents of her lunch box when it had fallen under the seat.
She’d caught him, gripped his wrists with surprising ferocity for a young kid, and asked him why. He wasn’t sure why he told her the truth; lies had spilled off his tongue like water for everyone else. She might not recall the extra peanut butter sandwich she carried in the metal Barbie box after that day, but he’d never forget it. Those two slices of bread slapped together with spread oozing out the sides might have seemed like a small gesture to some, but at the time it had been everything to him.
“You don’t have to stop.” Her jaw was set and her shoulders squared, but she stepped back. “I already called roadside assistance.”
Damien stood, swung his leg over the bike, and kicked the stand out. “There’s no cell signal on this road. Never has been.” He walked over and took a glance under the hood of the car. “When’s the last time you replaced the fluids in this thing?”
When he looked up at her, he was surprised to see the heavily rounded belly, and understood the caution that clouded her eyes. Voice softer now, he met her eyes. “Lindsey. Don’t you remember me?”
She paused a moment, and then recognition replaced the caution. She put a hand over her heart and let out a big sigh of relief before rushing forward. Lindsey swung her arms around his shoulders and he gave her back a quick pat. He hadn’t had much physical contact—in a pleasant way—during his time in Afghanistan.
“I’m so sorry, Damien. I didn’t recognize you. You’ve buzzed off all that hair, but the eyes are still the same coastal-blue.” She smiled at him now. “I should have known.” She puffed out another breath. “Pregnancy hormones have me on edge.”
“When?” he asked and looked back under the hood.
“Won’t be much longer now. My due date is August twelfth.” She rested a hand over her belly. By the looks of things, she wasn’t going to make it to the due date, but he kept his mouth shut.
“One month left. Congratulations.” She was as beautiful now as she was then, standing before him with a warm glow blushed over her face. Pregnancy looked good on her, as had everything else.
“You can’t just sit on the road. This thing’s not going to start up again on its own.”
She pressed a hand to her forehead. “I know you’re right about the car. About the cell signal. I just don’t want to leave everything, and my dog is in the front seat.”
He lowered the hood and sure enough a black-and-white dog with a flat face, bulging eyes, and pointed ears too big for its head stared inquisitively back at him.
“A dog or a bat?” he questioned. “Pop the trunk. I’ll get what you have and drive you and the bat into town.”
She bit her full bottom lip and sent a nervous glance toward the bike.
“I’ll go slow.” Driving her would put a wrench in his plans, but there was no way he’d leave her stranded—or the dog, if you could call it that. He glanced at her and his heart thumped faster. He’d never been immune to Lindsey.
“I’m not sure it’s safe in my current state, and with Daisy.” She put a protective hand over her belly.
“What choice do you have?” Damien rounded the car to the passenger side and opened the door. The dog was sitting contently in a little canvas tote, which was strapped around the headrest, hoisting it up for a perfect view of the road. He shook his head and a grin stretched over his face. The things people did for their pets. “Is the bat in a car seat?”
Lindsey laughed. “It’s a booster seat. She likes to look out the window, but she’s too short.”
“You’re in for a rude awakening when that baby comes,” Damien said to the dog. He ran his hand over its head, and the dog turned its snout to lap its tongue over his palm. “You and your booster seat can sit right on the bike.” Damien lifted the dog out and started tying the booster to his bike.
Lindsey rounded the car, poked into the driver’s side, and popped the trunk. It was a wonder it hadn’t busted open on its own.
“Planning on staying long?” His brows popped up when a bag sprang out of the over-packed car. Was she running from something?
“I never should have left.” He could read between the lines. She didn’t wear a ring, not that it meant anything, but no man with a spine would let the mother of his child-to-be take a road trip alone—especially with the due date looming so close. “I’m putting down roots,” she said now, voice fiercer. “What about you? You only have a backpack.”
“I’m pulling them up. I won’t be staying long.” Was that disappointment that flashed over her face, or the heat and smog from the highway tricking his eyes and fogging his mind?
“Do you have a pack of essentials? We can take what you need into town, call the tow service, and get the rest when it pulls into the shop.”
She nodded. “I’ll just need a second to sort through.” He watched her retrieve a purse from the front seat and a small duffel from the back, and thought of how appealing she looked in the long breezy skirt and simple white tee. He had no business thinking of her that way—pregnant and all. Just as he had no business thinking of her in grade school. She had been honor roll and pom-poms. He had been torn jeans, leather jackets, and trouble.
“Okay, I think that’s all the necessities.” She struggled with the zipper until it finally closed. It would be a challenge to ride with the overstuffed bag, but he’d make it work. Damien opened the left saddlebag and stowed her purse.
“Put this on.” He shifted and handed her his helmet. Her long silky hair flowed over full breasts. He swallowed and looked away.
She clipped the helmet straps under her chin and held his shoulders for balance as she slowly—and very awkwardly—mounted the bike.
“Now hang on real tight,” he called over the roar of the engine springing to life. She listened. Her arms wound tight around his waist, gripping on like he was the last life preserver on a sinking ship. Lindsey’s scent, something sweet and warm, teased his senses and made his stomach grip. Her belly bump pressed against his back, reminding him to ignore his visceral reactions.
He had enjoyed women through the years, but they never stuck—or he never let them. He was smart enough to know he wasn’t his father, but not naive enough to forget they were of the same gene pool. Damien wasn’t sure if he was cut from the kind of cloth that wrapped itself up in a relationship, one where the threads grew stronger over time instead of fraying. It was the same reason he allowed himself a beer or two, but never drank to excess. He wasn’t an addict like his father, but never forgot he came from one, either.
He drove more slowly than he ever had, avoiding potholes as if they were sinkholes in the road. The dog seemed to be enjoying the journey, as it sat in front of him on the bike. Her head was tilted to the sky and her nose wrinkled as she sniffed the scents that tangled in the breeze. Lindsey on the other hand, had a tight hold on his waist and didn’t loosen it until they pulled into a parking space in front of John’s Tire Shop and Road Side Assistance.