Sailing out of Darkness (Carolina Coast Book 4)(3)

By: Normandie Fischer

“Then you’re naïve.”

His loud sigh made her want to kick something. She’d have used his shins if he’d been nearby.

“Fine, I’ll call her. Hold off on the sheriff.”

“I will for now, but you need to tell her that won’t last. And don’t forget to assure her we won’t be seeing each other anymore. Maybe that’ll get her to leave me alone.”

“I can’t say that, because you know it’s not true.”

“It has to be. This time, it has to be.”

Three strikes, and you’re out. She’d had her three—and more.

“I’ll talk to her, but I’ll also see you when I get back.” He didn’t wait for her answer.

Sam stared at the silent phone and slowly set it down. How had this disconnect happened? She said the words. He talked right over her and then walked right in. But could she blame him? Even the mess with her screens hadn’t stiffened her spine enough for her to bar the door.

She glanced over her shoulder at the back porch. It had been another morning like this one, sun-drenched and clear. She’d padded into the kitchen to the scent of fresh brew and filled her mug before heading to the porch to welcome the day. She could still feel the burn from the sloshed coffee on her wrist and fingers.

Someone had ripped down her screens.

No, not ripped. Sliced. Knifed.

She’d set her mug on an inside table, dabbed her hand on her bathrobe to dry it, and stepped out.

Boards had creaked under her feet, but she’d focused on one particular section of screen where the red letters of half a word still hung straight, leaving a B and an I. Flopped toward the floor had been three more, their shapes distorted by the folds of dangling mesh, but still guessable. She hadn’t wanted to touch them, or touch anything at all.

The corner of a chair had hit her thigh as she’d backed away. Stumbling, she’d grabbed the wall, turned, and fled, locking the door behind her.

Now, on this morning of regret, she pictured blond hair surrounding a face contorted with anger. The sting of tears replaced the slamming of heart against ribs. Because she’d known, then and now.

Only one person hated her enough to wreck such damage.

Gray obscured the room when she woke the next morning, as if cataracts fogged her lenses. She rubbed her eyes to clear them and climbed from bed. The cuckoo in the hall reminded her it was time to get a move on. Work waited. The world waited.

She showered, dressed, and applied armor before she faced town: a dab of concealer under her eyes, a heavy application of blush, and a flick of waterproof mascara. She pulled a turquoise silk shirt off a hanger, slipped into black slacks and black flats, and added a pair of small gold hoops.

She packed a salad for lunch. Samantha’s offered baked goodies for those who came in looking for a tall cup, or who wanted new knives or blenders or a cookbook so they could stir-fry in their new wok. Maybe she needed fattening, but not with espresso brownies, because she couldn’t help thinking that once she got started, she wouldn’t be able to quit. And today was not the day to get started.

Not unless she wanted to turn into her daddy’s cousin Lulu, who’d blimped to 368 pounds when her husband ran off with his boyfriend. One brownie at a time had segued into one cake at a time and then into two cakes plus a gallon of ice cream. Lulu had died of heart failure before she hit forty-nine.

Maybe Sam’s heart hadn’t yet been completely shattered like Lulu’s, but it surely had fissures big enough to leak the life right out. And she’d carved a slew of them herself.

Still, she had both of her shops, the first of which she’d built from nothing before the coffeehouse craze hit Raleigh, the second, post-Greg, a little closer to home. And she had her beautiful little sailboat, along with her newly restored cottage. And, of course, the twins plus one and a half. Lulu’d had no one. Not even her cousin.

That one-and-a-half still took some getting used to. She liked her daughter-in-law and the prospect of that new life Cindy carried. But it wasn’t so very long ago that Daniel and his twin sister, Stefi, had been children on top of each other and her, their voices echoing, the thump-thump of their music swelling until it almost burst the walls of the house they’d all shared in Raleigh. Sometimes, when fixing breakfast for herself, she imagined the twins sitting behind her, begging for waffles: “Please, Mom, just one more?”