Sailing out of Darkness (Carolina Coast Book 4)

By: Normandie Fischer




1





Samantha





Black night’s emptiness, the bed reeks of nothing.

Cuckoo sings the melody, but no one hears.



Samantha Ransom smoothed her palm across the silky sheet, stopping when she touched a feathered mass of pillow. Just that movement roused a whiff of Jack’s aftershave, along with traces of sweat and man, and memories flashed—of his touch, of his fingers, oh, and of his kisses. They danced in her head, unbidden. Unwanted.

On a moan, she tossed the pillow to the floor and pressed a fist against the wrench in her gut. The sound oozed from her belly, growing louder as it hit the air.

Long minutes passed before her cries quieted to ragged breaths. She kicked free of the tangled top sheet and waited for a sleep that would not come. The minutes became hours as the cuckoo in her old clock intoned their loss.

Something crunched on the gravel outside her open window, sending her heartbeat’s thurump to double time. She balled her fists. An intruder would give her something to fight against instead of this self she couldn’t control.

But no one came.

The silence echoed off the walls, reminding her of childhood nights when she’d bit her lip and squeezed shut her eyes to keep the bad away. “Let it go,” she whispered now.

At the first gray of dawn, she eased out of bed, snatched at the sheets, and let them lie in a heap on the floor as she took her used body into the bathroom. Climbing in the shower, she tried to scour away the night and her misery with a lavender body wash.

The unscrubbable followed her to the laundry room, where she stuffed the sheets in the washer and turned the water temperature to hot. It settled on her as she ground coffee beans and placed the kettle on to boil.

Samantha’s, her coffee/kitchen shop, was closed today. Church would happen all up and down the Neuse, but she wouldn’t be there. Not today. Not this week. Not when her chest blazed its scarlet A, and God seemed un-found. Silent.

She wandered the downstairs rooms, waiting for inspiration, for something that would occupy her hands and perhaps her thoughts. She’d vacuumed, dusted, and polished during yesterday’s storm. She didn’t want to cook. Or pull weeds.

Perhaps she’d tackle her little boat’s brightwork. The rain had kept her from sanding the mahogany on the centerboard trunk or touching up those peeling spots of varnish on the bowsprit. Besides, working on the Alice II always calmed her.

Leaving the coffee untouched, she donned her grubbies and headed toward the river. The wind lay still. The sky shimmered a light blue as the sun rose higher in a day that ought to hold some joy.

With one hand on the rail that led down the bank, she glanced at the dock. And squinted as she looked again, because it couldn’t be.

Her boat’s mast listed a good thirty-degrees to port. Dashing down the short flight of steps, Sam tried to grasp the hows, let alone the whys. She always left enough slack in the lines to compensate for the rise and fall of the tide—unless she’d been careless when she’d last secured the boat. Because of those other things on her mind.

Alice strained against the dock. Thank heaven Sam had tied off the boom so it wasn’t dipping over the left side, adding its weight to the rest. The bailing bucket, lines, and a sponge slopped around in a cockpit half-filled with water.

Her pulse beat a jitterbug as she knelt and leaned out and over. Nothing there. Perhaps forward?

Lying on her belly on the hard wooden dock, she stretched to check under the raised gunwale near her.

And there they were, a series of small holes just below what would normally have been the waterline. At each indentation, starburst cracks in the boat’s interior gelcoat radiated outward.

She pushed herself up, studying the outside of the hull to be certain Alice hadn’t hit barnacles or rubbed against a piling. But that wouldn’t explain the starburst cracks. Those meant someone had stabbed from inside the cockpit.

Thank God, she’d messed up the dock lines, tightening them instead of leaving them loose enough for tidal changes. If she’d cleated them properly, any holes below the waterline would have sunk Alice. Whoever had poked those holes hadn’t expected the short lines and the very low tide to keep the boat lopsided instead of at the bottom of the river.