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

By: Normandie Fischer

Her once-upon-a-time babies had morphed overnight, one into a husband and soon a father, the other, her sweet girl, into a design student in Florence, Italy. They were barely twenty-two.

Sam could feel wrinkles sagging her arms, her neck, her world. She was almost a grandmother. Soon, she’d need bifocals. A walker. A wheelchair.

That image provoked a bark of laughter.

“Get over yourself,” she said, scrubbing harder at a splatter of oil on the counter.

Clouds darkened the sky as she finished putting away her lunch fixings, and the first spatters of rain hit the gravel as she headed out of her driveway and into Beaufort. Good thing she’d fixed Alice’s holes before the rains returned.

Sam beat a tattoo on the steering wheel in time to the slosh of her wipers. She ought to get the radio fixed. Or put in a CD player.

She’d scheduled another training session for her Beaufort assistant, Tootie, on some of the software both shops used, and Rhea was supposed to call with a report from the Raleigh Samantha’s at ten. Her morning would be busy. Busy was good.

Busy might keep her from…what? Calling the sheriff? Banging her head against the wall?

By closing time, Sam barely had energy to get herself home, like a horse that had been ridden hard and put away wet. “Yeah, right,” she told her Toyota. “I’m more like wrung out and hung up wet, and I’ll be wetter if this rain doesn’t slow.”

She picked up a ready-made spinach salad and an already roasted chicken at the grocery store, along with a loaf of freshly baked multigrain, and headed home. Where she found a voicemail from Jack.

“Missing you. I’ll be back Sunday, if all goes well. I love you.”

He loved her, but he hadn’t mentioned speaking to India. He loved her, but he wouldn’t stay away when she begged him to.

Well, of course not. Why should he believe she meant it?

She stabbed at her salad and tried to chew a bite that included greens and a chunk of goat cheese. It needed more salt. Pepper. Something.

She sipped her wine, which should have mellowed her, shouldn’t it? When the phone rang, she jumped but let it go to voicemail.

Another sip, another stab, and curiosity propelled her to check the message. It was Rhea’s voice this time, saying, “We need to talk.”

Sam hit the Call button. “You rang?”

“I did,” Rhea said. “Honey, you didn’t sound so good today. Oh, I know you didn’t mean to let me hear it. But this is me, remember?”

Sam picked up her glass and carried it to the couch. Sliding down against a fluffy pillow, she sighed. “Oh, Rhea. It’s bad.”

“Tell me.”

“I found holes in Alice yesterday. Looked like an ice pick had made them.”

“You thinking what I’m thinking? That it’s the old girlfriend up to her tricks?”

“Who else?”

“So, why’d she come after you this time? I thought you’d shuffled that man all the way out of your life.”

Sam twirled the wine in her glass, but she couldn’t bring herself to drink. Or to speak.

“You didn’t? Oh, honey. I told you what you gotta do.”

Rhea had. Rhea’d been steadfast when Sam’s Raleigh church friends had sent worried looks and cold shoulders, as if her divorce were catching. So, of course, Sam had clung to Rhea’s friendship. And big-mouth Sam had told Rhea all about meeting up with her childhood best friend, Jack. About him working on her house. About how fun it was to play on Alice with Jack.

It hadn’t taken Rhea long to jab her finger on the tabletop when Sam had visited Raleigh. “Honey, you gotta flee.” Then those fingers had fluttered in a little wave as if to shoo Sam out the door. “The Lord’s really clear on this. You hear? Temptation like that? You gotta run fast as those legs of yours will carry you.” She’d said it more than once since she’d learned the truth.

But in the beginning of the mess, the voice in Sam’s head had whispered contrary messages. You can do it. You’re strong. Just say no.

Who’d ever come up with that platitude? Just say no.

Sure. Right. Great idea, and workable for a saint, which Sam obviously wasn’t.

No, Rhea’s had been the better advice: “Hightail it out of Dodge.”