Authors: Elisabeth Barrett
Tags: #Romance, #Suspense, #Contemporary
Long Simmering Spring
A Star Harbor Novel
Long Simmering Spring
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2013 by Elisabeth Barrett
Deep Autumn Heat
by Elisabeth Barrett copyright © 2012 Elisabeth Barrett.
Blaze of Winter
by Elisabeth Barrett copyright © 2012 Elisabeth Barrett.
Along Came Trouble
by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Loveswept and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-54164-2
Cover photograph: © George Kerrigan
To my parents
Thank you for giving me the space to dream.
The telltale sound of the metal-on-metal rigging clanging above deck was a clear indication that Cole Grayson wasn’t inside a stifling-hot canvas tent in Kunar Province. The gentle pitch and roll under his back and the aromas of salt and sea could mean only one thing: he was on his brother’s houseboat in Star Harbor, thousands of miles from Afghanistan. His eyeballs were sticking to his lids, but for once, waking up early didn’t bother him.
He’d finally slept through the night. It had taken him only seven years, three months, and nineteen days.
Not that he was counting.
He swung his legs out from his berth and stood carefully, knowing his head would graze the ceiling of the small cabin. Houseboats simply weren’t designed for men of his size. Given that Val nearly matched him in height, he had no idea how his older brother had made do on the vessel for so long.
Still, he wasn’t complaining. The eight months Val had let him stay on board had been a huge chunk of rent-free time. He’d given Val some money for the upkeep of the boat and for docking fees, but it wasn’t nearly as much as if he’d been paying for an apartment. As always, his brother had been more than generous.
Cole grabbed his jeans from where they were neatly folded on a nearby shelf and pulled them on over his boxers, not bothering with a shirt or shoes. Still a bit wobbly, he used a hand on the ceiling as a guide to steady himself and slowly walked to the short ladder that led up to the deck.
Pushing open the cabin’s door, he emerged topside. There was a dim glow on the horizon. When the sun rose, it would cast a glorious amber light over the inner harbor, creeping over the piers and moving up the sides of the buildings in town. The fishing boats, wet with dew and seawater, rocked gently in the breeze, creaking and straining against their moorings. Seabirds welcomed the pre-dawn morning, their shrill cries piercing the crisp spring air.
Bracing himself against the morning chill, Cole joined his brother, who was leaning against the side of the cabin and drinking a cup of coffee from a stainless-steel mug. Illuminated by a string of Christmas lights they hadn’t bothered to take down, Val gave him a nod. As he imitated the gesture, Cole bit back a smile.
There was no mistaking that they were brothers, from their clear blue eyes to their speech patterns, and most definitely to their mannerisms.
Cole nodded. “Yeah.” Clearly, the time he’d spent with the shrink in Boston to help manage his post-traumatic stress disorder had paid off. But although both the Boston P.D. and the Star Harbor Sheriff’s Department had cleared him for active duty, he knew he’d always be living with it. And the more under control he could get it, the happier he—and everyone around him—would be.
“Didn’t hear any yelling last night.”
Cole merely grunted. Typically nothing got past that brother of his, and it was impossible to hide anything from Val on this tiny boat.
“Sounds like you’re doing better. Still, I don’t know why you quit seeing that psychologist when you moved here. I’d keep at it if I were you,” Val said, staring out to the horizon. Cole knew that all three of his brothers had noticed the change in him since he’d left the army, but only Val had the balls to say something to his face.
“I know,” Cole said tightly. “It’s a time issue, more than anything.” Val’s point was well taken. Cole’s nightmares had plagued him since he’d received his honorable discharge, and his sharp bursts of temper were something he still had to struggle mightily to keep under control. Coming back to Star Harbor to head up the Sheriff’s Department was a last-ditch effort to integrate back into civilian life. It had helped a lot, but things could always be better. “I’ll think about it.”
“That’s all I’m asking.” Val paused for a few moments, as if weighing what to say next. “You know I like your company, but I get that you might be itching to move on.”
“I appreciate you letting me stay here. Really.” Cole rubbed a hand over his eyes. Val had known what he was getting himself into.
Me, with all my baggage.
“I told you it would take a while to figure out where I want to live.”
“I know. But seriously, I’m glad you’re here. Free labor.”
“You joke, but the least I can do is help out on the boat. I’ve been crashing here way too long. Still, I have to admit, I’m glad to be back. Seems like we Graysons can’t go for too long without coming home to Star Harbor,” Cole said, throwing their younger brothers, twins Theodore and Sebastian, into the mix.
“You can’t keep away, can you?” Val murmured. “For me, it’s the memories. Remember that warm summer night when Dad took us out on his boat to see the swarm of glowing jellyfish? He knew just where to find them. I couldn’t believe how bright the water looked. And I’ll never forget the pirate stories he told us later that night. He was amazing, wasn’t he?”
“I miss Dad,” Cole said flatly. “And Mom, too.” Being back in Star Harbor meant that memories of his father, who’d been killed twenty years ago on his boat in a hurricane, and his mother, who’d died twelve years ago of a stroke, were always in the forefront of Cole’s mind. In some ways, living in town again was both cathartic and depressing. After a childhood of hell-raising he was glad to finally be able to give something back to the community, but things weren’t as easy as he’d hoped. The war had given his life a skewed focus, though slowly, things had been improving.
being the key word. He’d gotten good at blocking the worst of what he’d seen from his mind. But every now and then, a sight, a sound, or even a smell would trigger his memory and something he wished to God he could forget would be right there, happening all over again.
Before he got too far down that road, Val cut in. “You’re off duty now, right?”
“Until tomorrow morning.”
“So what are you planning to do today?
“Thought I’d help out with some repairs on the boat. Anything you want taken care of?”
Val grinned. “Oh yeah, I have some stuff for you to do.”
“Whatever it is, I’ll make sure I finish it up at a decent hour. Don’t forget that we’re meeting Theo at the Rusty Nail tonight.” Theo was a bestselling novelist who had also returned to Star Harbor. He seldom spent an evening apart from his fiancée, Avery Newbridge, a compassionate social worker with fiery red hair. But Avery was currently in Boston at some conference, and Theo was stuck with them for company for the next few nights.”
“Mmm,” Val said. “Avery’s a good match for him, though I have to admit I thought you were going to be the next Grayson man down.”
“I don’t give it up that easy.”
“That’s not what Zee told me,” Val said, giving him an even look.
“Zee doesn’t talk,” Cole said, calling his brother’s bluff about his old partner from the Boston precinct.
“I know how to read between the lines.”
Cole was happy that Val and his team of federal agents had been assigned to interface with the Sheriff’s Department to investigate the drug issue plaguing Star Harbor. That meant his insightful older brother was around a lot. Yet he deliberately kept quiet about the relationships he’d had since returning from deployment. After the first few had gone south, he’d all but given up trying. Olivia had been a fluke—and the final straw. Things had been all right for a while, but once she’d asked him to move in with her, the relationship had gone downhill, fast.
Cole cleared his throat. “It’ll feel fine to do some real work again,” he said.
“Beats doing paperwork behind a desk.”
“I’m doing more than that,” Cole snorted, relieved that Val had moved on from talking about his love life.
“Mmm,” Val said. “Coffee’s fresh in the galley. Go grab some and then we’ll discuss what you can do for me today.”
Cole nodded. “I’ll be back in a few.” He turned and ducked back into the cabin. It
feel good to flex his muscles. He hadn’t done much physical labor since returning to town late last summer. Today, he’d skip his usual morning run and his weight-lifting session at the gym and put in a hard day of work on the boat. Life on the water was freeing, but it sure wasn’t easy, and Val could use all the help he could get.
Besides, it was the perfect way to get any lingering demons out of his head.
“Okay, Billy, I’m almost finished. You’ve been a very brave boy,” Julie Kensington murmured as she finished making the last tiny stitch in Billy’s leg. The neat pattern ran two inches down the side of his right calf. The wound was red and puffy, but it would heal well. Expertly, she knotted the thread and began to put her instruments away. “All done,” she said, giving a nod to Billy’s parents, Pru and Harry Miller. “You can look now.”
The six-year-old waited a few seconds and then turned his tear-streaked face away from the shelter of his mother’s arms. After examining the stitches for a few moments, Billy spoke. “It looks like Frankenstein’s leg. It’s kinda cool.” He gave a little sniffle and wiped his nose on his mother’s expensive blouse. Pru didn’t look at all as if she minded.
“I’m going to bandage it up now, okay?” Julie took some gauze and arranged it over the wound, taping it down on unharmed tissue. “Billy had a tetanus shot recently, right?” she asked Pru, continuing to tidy up her work area. Her resident nurse, Lisa Yarmouth, would kill her if she left everything a shambles.
“Yes. He had his booster last year,” the petite woman confirmed, her brown bob swaying as she tipped her head up to her husband. “Right, Harry?”
Harry, a tall, square-jawed man, cleared his throat. “Yes,” he said, picking the little boy up in his arms. As soon as Billy was situated with his hurt leg carefully cradled, he placed his head in the crook between his father’s neck and shoulder and closed his eyes.
Julie smiled at the tender moment but got back to business right away. “One more thing,” she said. “I didn’t get a chance to see if the jungle gym was rusted. Do you remember?”
“I don’t think so,” Harry said. Pru just shrugged.
“Hmm. Why don’t I go by to take a look this evening? With these kinds of injuries, sometimes we do an extra booster, just in case, but it’ll depend on what I find.”
“Should we get one now to be safe?” Pru asked, standing.