Sailing out of Darkness (Carolina Coast Book 4)(10)

By: Normandie Fischer

Sam pulled a tissue from her blazer pocket and swiped at her damp cheeks before blowing her nose. “That’s a lot of responsibility I’m heaping on you.”

“Sam, listen to yourself. You’re letting me live in your wonderful cottage, letting Holland take me sailing in your beautiful Alice, which, by the way, he’s dying to work on, so you don’t need to worry about a thing there. And you’re trusting me with the shop. You’re doing me a huge favor.”

“It doesn’t feel like that from here.”

“Pooh.” As a few drops of rain hit the windshield, Tootie hunched over the wheel to peer up at the sky. “Was it supposed to do this today?”

“I didn’t think so. Maybe it will quit soon.”

“I hope.” Tootie flicked on the headlights and the wipers. “I told you Jenny’s opening this morning, didn’t I?”

Ah, business. Good, a distraction. “You still think she’ll work out?”

“I do.”

“I hope she understands you’re the one in charge.”

“You made that plain. We won’t have any trouble.” Tootie shot her a big-toothed smile. “Besides, if she gives me any grief, I’ll just sic Holland on her.”

“That’s what I told Rhea. What an image.”

Tootie steered the Volvo toward Raleigh and asked, as if she’d just thought of it, “Are you sure you don’t want me to take you all the way? I could, you know. It’s not that far.”

“No. It’s time you met Rhea face to face, and I have some papers to give her. She lives this side of town, anyway.”

Rain streamed down the side windows. Sam willed it to stop before she had to change cars, but the splat-patter continued. The wipers swooshed to the right, to the left, and back again in a grating rhythm that sometimes missed a beat when a blade stuck on the glass. A passing car sprayed a fan of water, momentarily blinding them.

“What’s with these guys?” Tootie asked. “Haven’t they heard of oil slicks?”

Sam didn’t comment. She could barely see the highway, and Tootie’s posture made it clear that the girl was nervous, especially when cars zoomed past in this fast zone. But the Volvo held steady.

As they approached the by-pass around Smithfield, she directed Tootie toward the exit leading to the outlet mall and then to a parking lot on the west side. “Rhea will meet us here.”

Her stomach felt fluttery from too much caffeine. Or too much fear.

She hated the way she was doing this, leaving the world she’d created and heading off like an escapee instead of a woman on the brink of adventure. She shut her eyes again, just for a moment, and tried to conjure the image of a Tuscany landscape that had hung for so long in the Raleigh house as a focal point for dreams. Then, she’d imagined traveling as one of four. Not this way, the mama running off to visit her daughter because she had to go somewhere.

Mama, the mess. Mama, the….no, she wouldn’t even think that word.

“Here?” Tootie asked, rousing her.

“That’s fine. Rhea should be along soon.”

Tootie shifted into park and left the engine running. Reaching into the backseat, she produced a book. “I got you this to read on the plane.”

Sam studied the blurb. “Another Theo Anderson mystery. And how very apropos, with his heroine Sophrina sleuthing in the Apennines.” She pulled the girl into a quick hug. “Thank you so much. You know I enjoy your uncle’s stories.” She tucked it away in her shoulder bag with her getaway stash: her ticket, credit cards, Euros, passport, and antiquated cell phone, which wouldn’t work once she left the States.

“I wrote Uncle Teddy’s phone number in the back, in case you get a chance to call him. I already told him Stefi’s in Italy, because, you know, I thought he might help her. Make her more comfortable, having sort of a relation there. I mean, my relation, not hers, and she doesn’t know him, but she knows me, sort of, anyway. Through you. And Uncle Teddy’s great. I know he’d like to meet you both.”

“Thank you,” Sam repeated, scanning the parking lot for Rhea’s car. All she could think about was escape, not making nice with anyone, even Tootie’s uncle. “I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing, but thank you. If nothing else, I’m sure Stefi will be glad of another contact.”