Authors: Blaize Clement
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As always, deepest thanks go to my superb editor, Marcia Markland, and everyone else at St. Martin’s Press, including associate editor Kat Brzozowski, editorial assistant Quressa Robinson, and publicist Sarah Melnyk. Thanks also to my friends Dana Beck, Hellyn Sher, and Mike Harder for their priceless encouragement; to Detective Sergeant Chris Iorio and Lieutenant David Parisi of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department for their expertise; to India Cooper for her extraordinary copyediting; to my agent, Al Zuckerman at Writer’s House, for his guidance; to Ellen Thornwall and the real Cosmo, as well as author Elizabeth Hand and the real Mrs. Silverthorn for giving me good character names; and finally to David Urrutia, Zoe, and the rest of my family for their undying love and support.
Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality.
There are lots of good things about having a boyfriend—especially a new one. First of all, you get to do all those corny, young-love things that new couples have been doing since the dawn of time: hold hands on the beach, watch the sun set, make out like teenagers. Then there are the more practical advantages. For example, you get to mention how the trash needs to be taken out, and if you have a well-trained boyfriend, he’ll take it out. You get to look in the mirror and mutter, “I look like warmed-over toast today,” and he’ll lavish you with compliments. If you have a
well trained boyfriend, you might even get a box of chocolates now and then (my own personal weakness). At the end of the day, a boyfriend is a very good thing.
But there’s a downside.
Don’t get me wrong, Ethan is as smart as a whip, 100 percent thoughtful, and devastatingly, bewilderingly,
hunky. But now that I have a boyfriend, I can’t really sit around all afternoon eating Fritos and ice cream and watching old reruns of
Not that that’s the sort of thing I do on a regular basis—at least not anymore. Ethan is under the impression that I’m the kind of girl who listens to hip music and reads the latest thought-provoking books in her spare time.
I’m not sure where he got that idea, but I have to try to live up to it as much as possible.
I’m Dixie Hemingway, no relation to you-know-who. I used to be a deputy with the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department, until my whole world came crashing down around me and I quit the force, or to be accurate, the force quit me. I think the official words on my discharge report were “unfit for duty.” Now I’m a professional pet sitter on Siesta Key, an eight-mile barrier island that sits just off the shore of Sarasota, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico.
I’ve built a pretty good business for myself. Most of my clients are cats, but I have a few regular dogs, too, with an occasional bird or iguana, and even recently a giant tank full of priceless exotic fish. I draw the line at snakes, though. Some people think snakes make a real neat pet. Those people are crazy.
It was a little after 5:00
when I left my last client for the day and pulled my Bronco out onto Ocean Boulevard, heading south toward the center of town. My plan was to stop by Beezy’s Bookstore on my way home and buy something impressive to read. Beezy’s is the type of place where you can find the latest blockbuster novel right next to an old, dog-eared copy of
complete with faded yellow highlighting and scribbled notes in the margins.
I was looking forward to it. I hadn’t been there in years, but I was a regular customer when I was a little girl. I remember sitting in the aisle with my older brother, Michael, while our grandmother was shopping at the market across the street. I loved the feeling of being surrounded by all those dusty thoughts and dreams of writers from all over the world, all with their own story to tell. I distinctly remember the moment I realized I’d never live long enough to read every book in the world. I cried for days.
The northern end of Ocean Boulevard is mostly old houses and runs along a stretch of beach, but as you get closer to the center of town, all kinds of shops start popping up on both sides. Most people just assume the street was named for its breathtaking view of the Gulf of Mexico to the west, but in fact, the man who originally bought up all the land in this area named it after his wife, whose name just happened to be Ocean.
I was keeping an eye out for a parking spot when something in the rearview mirror caught my eye. It was an old, cherry red convertible sports car right behind me, flashing its headlights and weaving from side to side. The driver was a thin-faced man with expensive-looking sunglasses perched on top of his pale, balding head. He had that blank, set-in-stone expression that only a true … well, let’s just say a true
can muster. He was revving his engine and drawing within inches of my back bumper, waving his hands in a frantic “Speed up!” gesture.
Now, I’m no angel. I’ve been known to drift outside of the traffic laws every once in a while. I even got pulled over once for going thirty miles per hour over the speed limit, which sounds bad enough except the speed limit was seventy. In my defense, I was twenty-one years old and dumb as a fruitcake, driving my own car for the first time in my life, not to mention I was the only car on the road for miles. I was midway along State Road 84, a sun-parched two-lane highway that cuts a straight horizontal swath right through the Florida Everglades. The only thing you have to worry about running into there (besides a cop with a speed gun) is the occasional alligator lumbering across the broiling asphalt.
But here we were in the middle of a beach town, not to mention in the middle of tourist season—shops and cafés on either side of the street, happy retirees on two-person bicycles ambling along on the shoulder, and kids skipping around with ice cream cones and listening to music on their iPods. I was already going about five miles per hour over the limit. There was no way I was speeding up just so some ember-head could get to his golf game two minutes earlier. I gently eased off the gas and slowed to the actual speed limit, which in town is only twenty-five.
I looked up in the mirror and saw the man smack his forehead in exasperation. His cheeks were beginning to turn a deep shade of plum. He leaned his head out over the striped lines in the road to see if he could pull around me. Normally, I’d stick to my guns and cruise along at exactly the posted limit just to teach him a lesson, but I was pretty sure he was about to make a run for it, and there was too much traffic to do it safely.
I decided to act like a grown-up—something I do every once in a while. I flicked on my turn signal and started to slow down, but before I’d even moved over to the side his tires screeched and he came peeling around my back bumper into the oncoming lane. I put my face in a perfect “You bald jackass” expression so he’d know exactly what I thought of his antics, but he didn’t even give me the pleasure of shooting me a dirty look as he roared by. He just glanced at me with a blank expression on his face, all business, as if nothing were wrong.
I took a deep breath. Siesta Key is home to only about three thousand full-time residents, and thanks to our sugar-white sand and bathtub-warm waters, we have another three or four thousand part-timers on top of that, but it’s a whole different story in the winter. That’s when the snowbirds descend on our little paradise, and the population swells to about twenty-four thousand. While folks up north are shoveling snow and chipping ice off their windshields, we’re sipping daiquiris out on the deck or watching dolphins frolic in the Gulf. On Christmas Day, you can find whole families headed down to the water to spread their presents out on beach blankets. The kids play in the surf with their new toys while Mom and Dad blissfully soak in the sun with a good book and a beer or two.
There are some snowbirds, though—like my friend here in the red convertible—who have a genuinely hard time smoothing out their feathers once they land. It’s as if they haven’t unpacked yet and they’re dragging all their baggage around everywhere they go, full of unpaid bills, ungrateful children, looming deadlines, and mounting household chores. Not that I’m complaining. We love our snowbirds. They spend lots of money and keep us all employed and happy. Plus, they flock here from all over the world, so it gives our little town a bit of cosmopolitan cachet.
I pulled back out on the road and told myself that once ol’ Baldy McGrumpypants had spent a few more days here, he’d settle down and all that pent-up anger and anxiety would melt away. He’d eventually nestle in and be just as happy and serene as the rest of us. At least, that’s what I hoped.
Not more than a minute later I had a sneaky feeling something wasn’t quite right. I’d been keeping an eye out for the bookstore, so I’d looked away from the road for a second, and when I looked back, coming at me like a speeding meteor was the back end of an old black Cadillac, its fin-shaped taillights glowing bright red.
I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could and heard a gut-wrenching squeal as I felt the Bronco veer slightly off kilter. I’m not completely sure, but I think at least three or four key scenes from my life flashed before my eyes as I slid to a grinding stop, just inches from the Cadillac’s rear bumper.
I looked down at my hands. They were gripping the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles had turned chalk white, and I could literally hear my heart beating in my chest. In front of the Cadillac was a pileup of at least three more cars, and in the oncoming lane farther down was a disabled landscaping truck with a red front grille and three steeple-high palm trees swaying in the breeze in the back.
I let out a sigh of relief, which turned out to be a little premature. I glanced up, and sure enough there in the rearview mirror was a bright pink Volkswagen Beetle speeding straight for the back of my car. I had just enough time to see a young woman behind the wheel, absentmindedly twirling her long blond curls in one hand and holding a cell phone to her ear with the other. As I slammed my open palm down on the horn to get her attention, the thought flashed across my mind that she could only have been operating the steering wheel with her knees. I thought to myself,
If we live through this, I’m going to kill that little bitch.
I closed my eyes and prepared for impact, but the woman must have looked up and hit the brakes at the last moment, because I heard what sounded like a pack of howler monkeys and then when she did hit me, the Bronco lurched forward only a foot or so, bumping into the Cadillac in front of me with a loud