Authors: Nancy Bush
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #revenge, #Romance, #Thrillers, #Romantic suspense fiction, #Murder, #Mystery Fiction, #Murderers, #Female Friendship, #Crime, #Suspense, #Accidents
CANDY APPLE RED
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
Twelve years ago . . .
The last few minutes of Lucas Moore‘s life were spent in self-reflection.
Lucas was a surfer-dude type with long, blondish hair and a lean body, and at seventeen was, indeed, a surfer. He was also a lover. He liked girls and he had girlfriends, maybe one particular girlfriend, but things were getting kind of confusing in that department and he wasn‘t sure what to think. Especially with the particular group of girls he hung with. Their problems made him feel uncomfortable inside. He hadn‘t meant to hear all the secrets they told. He didn‘t want to know.
Maybe it was time to bail on all of ‘em and move on.
It was night. Dark. A thin moon skimmed in and out of clouds as he trudged along the beach away from the party. He found a rickety wooden staircase that led up to the bluffs way, way above.
This wasn‘t his beach. No waves, man. Just sand and smelly beach stuff.
He didn‘t much like it here. Was antsy to leave.
It was cold and he tucked the collar of his shirt closer to his neck. He was barefoot, having left his shoes back at the campfire. He wore a pair of ragged jeans and no briefs. He never wore
‘em. He‘d had sex once tonight, unexpectedly, and had a couple of other ―maybe‖ chances still out there and wasn‘t sure what to do about that. Sex was good. Sex was great.
But there were all these
. . . .
He wasn‘t made for problems. He was made for earth and waves and sky. Big waves that roared toward you like griffins from another world. When they reached you, you climbed on their backs and rode them like the flying beasts they were. Conquered them. Flew with them, and while you were there you were in a better world, a world where earth and gravity and sound didn ‘t exist. It was just you and air and moisture and the roar of power! The board beneath your feet was barely a sensation, didn‘t even exist.
But he wasn‘t on a surfboard now. He was trudging away from the girls and their secrets and the campfire and all the
. He was finding his peace.
Now he crested the top of the bluff and could feel his pounding heart from the exertion.
Jesus, what a long way up. Placing a hand over his chest, he closed his eyes and zenned. His thoughts expanded in all directions and then slowly coalesced and came back to him.
Okay, the girls had their problems. But maybe a little more sex wasn‘t such a bad thing. He liked women, liked feeling himself moving inside them . . . as long as they didn‘t howl and screech and claw like they were freaked out. Some guys got off on that, but Lucas liked a smooth ride with minimal stress, just sensation, the way nature intended.
Looking around, he squinted in the moon‘s uncertain light. He wasn‘t familiar with this bluff, either. The stairs he‘d climbed ran upward and eastward, cutting into the hillside so that when he‘d reached the top he was about a hundred feet inland from the western point of the bluff. Below, this jut of land cut through the beach like the prow of a ship, splitting it in half, reaching past the sand and into a rocky shoal that bubbled and frothed at the base like a cauldron.
Lucas considered. The whole area looked like private property, but he could see through the darkness that there was a trail on the other side of the gravel drive where he stood, a trail that meandered down toward the west, back the direction he‘d come, and it was littered with wrappers and beer cans. If he followed it, he might reach the ―prow‖ of this ship.
So thinking, he crossed the drive to the trail and headed west again. The trail‘s existence suggested trespassers like him didn‘t give a rat‘s ass who owned the property and just traveled it as they saw fit. That was fine with him. He wound toward the ocean, which he could hear but not see, and wished he‘d brought a beer with him.
Nearing the edge of the bluff, he slowed his steps. There was no guardrail here. No safety net. The rocks and tide pools sat three hundred feet below. Carefully, he walked to the very edge and stared into the inky night. Faint moonlight illuminated the ruffled edges of the waves to the north. Below him was blackness.
He closed his eyes and soaked in the moment. He loved the feel of the stiff breeze against his forearms where he‘d rolled back his shirt.
A noise to his left. A whisper.
Lucas cocked an ear but didn‘t move. He wasn‘t alone.
Slowly, he turned. In the grass to his right, a bare human leg. Moving.
―Hey, man . . .‖ he said apologetically. He wasn‘t the only one getting some tonight.
And then the leg jumped up and a figure leapt in front of him.
―Oh, Jesus,‖ Lucas said, surprised.
The figure raced toward him and Lucas automatically recoiled.
And that‘s when it happened. The ground beneath his foot shimmied. He was still feet from the cliff‘s edge but a chunk of dirt and sand suddenly gave way.
One moment he was processing; the next he was falling through a black sky.
The next he smashed onto a bed of large stones, landing faceup.
He looked up at the smiling moon, which tore through the clouds at that very moment and shone down on him lovingly.
His last conscious thought was:
This really sucks. . . .
The night Lucas Moore died, we were all telling secrets.
Coby Rendell‘s front tire hit a bump and wrenched her arms as she fought her steering wheel. Her dark blue Nissan Sentra slew sideways, nearly heading into the large ditch on the right side of the highway. Her heart raced. Gripping the wheel with white knuckles, she was peering through the driving rain and wind and wondered for the billionth time why she‘d agreed to this madness. Why? Why? She didn‘t want to go to the beach tonight, and she certainly didn‘t want to go to her stepmother‘s birthday party.
But sometimes, you just had to do what you had to do.
Setting her jaw, she felt her pulse start to slow as the car straightened out and the tires kept spinning, driving her west to the Pacific coast and the beach house where her father and stepmother and other party attendees would be. Another hour or so and she would be there. Back to the scene of the crime, so to speak.
―Were you with Lucas Moore, Miss Rendell?‖ the detective had asked her that day. A serious man in his late forties at the time, just beginning to develop a paunch, Detective Fred Clausen with the Tillamook County Sheriff‘s Department was interviewing them all in Coby‘s father‘s beach house.
We wanted to be. All of us girls. He was that guy. That surfer dude with a slow smile, lean
body, great abs, and muscular legs. Long, brown, sun-bleached hair to his shoulders and a way of
pulling you close and kissing you that made your knees quake.
But she didn‘t say that to the detective then. No, no. And she hadn‘t say it to anyone since.
She‘d been seventeen when Lucas fell from the cliff and into the ocean, seventeen when she ‘d witnessed his body floating in the water, his long hair drifting along the tide pools, skin cobalt blue, limbs broken. The image was burned into her brain and now, at twenty-nine, she could see him just as clearly and remember the fear and grief and horror.
―Tell me what happened, in your own words,‖ Detective Clausen had said, as he had to several of the other girls, and Coby, sitting at one of the dining room chairs in a halo of weak June sunlight that filtered through the clouds, had looked through the picture window toward the ocean, shivering like she had ague. It was her turn to talk. Her turn to tell all. But she couldn‘t.
―I don‘t know where to start,‖ she said, her lips quivering.
―You all went to the campfire,‖ he reminded her.
Now the car lurched again and Coby held tight to the wheel, frowning. Something was wrong. Glancing at the fir trees lining Highway 26, she realized that Halfway There, a diner tucked in the Coast Range between the Oregon coastline and the Willamette Valley, would be on her right in about five more miles.
All she had to do was make it.
She should have left work earlier. It was a Saturday, not even a regular workday at Jacoby, Jacoby, and Rosenthal. But she‘d met with a client, a woman in the throes of a divorce who didn‘t see the money pit she was about to fall into, as Coby‘s job was to guide JJ&R clients to their new financial reality. This woman hadn‘t taken the news well, as most didn‘t, and she‘d been late in leaving, the November daylight disappearing by four thirty P.M.
Now, with a feeling of intense relief, she saw the lights of Halfway There appear before her, the diner‘s logo of a half-empty, half-full glass flashing away against the darkening sky in neon green, beckoning travelers to their door as its ―water‖ filled and emptied, filled and emptied.
Coby turned into the lot and managed to avoid the worst of the potholes, pulling up beside an older, once-red Chrysler sedan, its now faded pink exterior being pummeled by the drowning rain. Stuffing her rain hat on her head, she stepped out in cowboy boots and jeans; she‘d managed to change at work before she took off for the coast, which should have been two hours away in decent weather, at least three in this.
Her right front tire looked okay from what she could see. It wasn‘t completely dark, but the cloud cover made everything seem later than it was. She tried to see the axle and thought it looked bent a little, but who could tell? The rain was torrential.
Mumbling invectives to herself, she pushed into the diner, dripping water from her raincoat onto the well-worn indoor/outdoor carpeting of the vestibule between the outside and inside doors.
Sweeping off her hat, she shook the rain from it, then pushed through the inner door, catching the eye of a wise-eyed waitress who was stacking empty plates onto a large tray from one of the tables.
―Sit anywhere,‖ she said. ―Someone‘ll be right with ya.‖
Coby looked around and chose a booth in the corner with a window to the parking lot and road. She watched a semi rush by, its headlights cutting a swath through the gathering twilight, water shooting from its tires in a flat stream, spraying into Halfway There‘s parking lot.
―Nice night, huh.‖ The waitress, her name tag reading Helen, appeared with her notepad and poised pencil.
―Just coffee,‖ Coby said.
―Honey, you sure? Look at that weather. Wherever you‘re goin‘, it‘s gonna be a while. I can‘t interest you in a nice piece of apple pie?‖
―I‘m trying to make dinner at the beach,‖ she said with a shake of her head.
―Just north of Deception Bay.‖
She snorted. ―Better take somethin‘ to go, then. ‘Cause you‘re gonna be hungry before you get there.‖
Stuffing her pad into a pocket, Helen headed behind the bar to grab the glass coffeepot and a mug and, as she was returning with both, a man behind the counter looked up and yelled, ―Hell!‖
―Yeah, Gary. That‘s my name, don‘t wear it out,‖ she called over her shoulder.
―This order‘s been here for ten minutes!‖
―Now, that‘s a darn lie,‖ she said calmly. ―Let me get this lady her coffee and then I‘ll take the order. Don‘t have a hemorrhage, for God‘s sake.‖
She shook her head as she placed the mug and a small pitcher of cream in front of Coby, pointing to the sugar packets with one hand as she poured the coffee with the other. She left, muttering under her breath.
Coby used the cream and stirred it into her drink. She wasn‘t worried about the weather. She was worried about her car but was going to give it the old college try. She wanted to get there, if for no other reason than to get out of this weather and into somewhere warm.
But she didn‘t want to stay the night. Please, God, no. Her father and stepmother were having a party—her stepmother‘s birthday party—and there would be lots of people. Coby planned to stay for an hour or so and then head home.