Chapter 1

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.


“Storm’s comin’,” the fisherman said, stroking the pewter whiskers of his beard. He glanced at the small television mounted above the espresso machine, squinting at the green radar image of circulating clouds.

Olivia Limoges followed his gaze. She looked at the irregular shape of the low-pressure system forming in the Caribbean, listening closely as the meteorologist showed the storm’s projected path should it gather strength and become more than a tropical disturbance. The slick-haired weatherman assured his viewing audience that although the storm was likely to organize and grow in force, it would remain out at sea, allowing for a perfect Labor Day weekend for those heading to the beach.

“Jackass,” the fisherman’s voice rumbled like distant thunder. He rubbed a calloused, leathery hand over his lined face as though he could wipe away the other man’s erroneous words. “Don’t matter how much fancy equipment these boys get. They don’t understand a damned thing’bout balance. We’re due for a big one and we’re witnessin’ her beginnin’ right here and now on that TV screen. I feel it in my bones. It’s a comin’.”

Olivia nodded in agreement, for she and the man beside her shared an understanding. The ocean lived inside them. Like the merfolk of legend, their blood seemed to be mixed with salt water and their hearts filled with cresting waves. There was a rhythm, like the pull of a tide, within their souls. Since birth, they’d been schooled to respect the currents and the shallows and the cold depths where no light penetrated. As adults, they were still awed by each powerful swell and surge.

In return for their reverence, the sea offered them gifts. The fisherman, whose name was Fergusson, had been granted three decades of nets brimming over with brown, white, and pink shrimp. With every haul, the captain counted his blessings. The ocean fed his family and gave him purpose. He was a man satisfied with his lot in life. Olivia had been given trinkets, pushed onto shore by frothy wavelets, and a fresh start, white and gleaming as a strip of sand in the moonlight.

She and the taciturn shrimp boat captain had been the first customers in the casual eatery. At six thirty in the morning, they’d taken black coffees and bagels with cream cheese to a cafe table to talk business over breakfast. Olivia had met Captain Fergusson over the summer, and after serving his shrimp to the patrons of her five-star restaurant, The Boot Top Bistro, she would order from no other shrimper. Not only did his catches taste as fresh as the moment they’d been lifted from the ocean, but the captain was also a sharp businessman who treated both his crew and his customers with equal fairness.

The grizzly fisherman and the tall, elegant restaurateur launched into a round of pleasant haggling. Olivia’s standard poodle, Captain Haviland, slept at their feet, his belly replete with a breakfast of eggs and bacon made especially for him by the doting coffeehouse proprietor.

An hour later, their business complete, the two residents of Oyster Bay, North Carolina, sat together in comfortable silence. Slowly, other residents of the small coastal town trickled in, followed by a few bleary-eyed tourists who’d just discovered that the kitchen in their costly vacation rental home lacked a working coffeemaker.

A man sporting a Yankees cap and a fresh sunburn complained to Wheeler, the octogenarian owner of Bagels’n’ Beans, as he ordered several complicated espresso creations. “I’m shelling out five grand a week for that freaking house! Do they expect me to drink that instant crap they left in the pantry?”

Wheeler issued a noncommittal grunt, scowling slightly as he skimmed the foam from the surface of the pitcher of steamed milk. Olivia knew the old man resented having to make what he referred to as “girly drinks” for his customers, but he knew enough about profit margins to realize he couldn’t have turned the slab of concrete behind the store into a cozy eating area without the revenue generated by tourists such as this one.

“I know better than to order bagels this far away from New York, so I hope you’ve got something else I like.” The man scrutinized the selection of baked goods and then pointed at his hat. “You guys just don’t have the right water. That’s the real difference.” Adopting a splayed-leg stance, he pointed at the pastry display. “I’ll take those caramel apple turnovers off your hands. They don’t look too bad.” His eyes gleamed as he watched Wheeler slip the sweets into a brown bag. Unconsciously rubbing his formidable paunch, he told Wheeler to add a few chocolate chip cookies as well.

“He ain’t gonna live to see seventy,” Captain Fergusson muttered as the tourist stuffed one of the cookies in his mouth. While the vacationer chewed greedily, he stirred six sugar packets into his mocha latte.

“Might not see tomorrow,” Olivia agreed. “If he comes to The Boot Top tonight, it will seal the deal. Michel’s specials for this evening include lobster-stuffed ravioli in a vodka cream sauce and an almond and Parmesan crusted salmon steak in a lemon-thyme sauce. Most of my patrons will need to be rolled out the door on dollies.”

The pair smiled at one another, picturing bloated tourists being wheeled down the restaurant’s handicapped ramp.

As they cleared the dishes from their table and brought them to the counter, the tourist turned to them. “You were brave enough to eat the bagels, huh?”

Fergusson barely held his sneer in check. “Everythin’ Wheeler sells is good.”

The man snorted and brushed away the cookie crumbs clinging to his chin. “You gotta be a local. Everybody knows you can’t eat bagels, pizza, or cold cuts this far south.” He scrutinized the seaman, his red, fleshy face dismissive as he peered at Olivia over the shrimper’s shoulder.

You don’t look like you’re from around here,” he told her, his gaze traveling down her body, examining her black sundress and silver sandals. “You look like a city girl.”

Olivia narrowed her eyes at the man. “I grew up in Oyster Bay. I left for a time, but I came back. This is my home.”

He gaped at her over his coffee cup. “Why the hell would you come back? Woman with your looks? You could have snagged yourself a rich husband and been set up in style in New York or Palm Beach. Anywhere but here! This place is okay for a week, but that is it.” He sidestepped the fisherman. “If you were my gal, you wouldn’t have to lift a finger. You could sit around all day watching soap operas.”

Olivia gave him a frosty smile. “What a tempting offer.” She then gestured at his wedding ring. “Your wife is a such a lucky woman.” Her smile became genuine as she said good-bye to Fergusson. At the snap of his mistress’s fingers, the sleeping poodle detached himself from the shadows beneath the table and leapt to his feet, barking once to illustrate that he was fully awake.

“What the—” the tourist spluttered and coffee dribbled onto his shirt.

Fergusson grinned, displaying a mouthful of tobaccostained teeth. “Look out, mister. That dog’s a black devil. He’ll bite your hand off if you take another step closer to Olivia. You’d best keep your distance.”

Olivia smiled, pausing at the fixings bar near the front door. The tourist turned to Fergusson, mistakenly assuming that Olivia had left the cafe when, in fact, she had decided to add another splash of cream to her to-go cup.

“What does she do in this podunk town?” the tourist asked, his back to the door. “A fine woman like that?”

“Owns most of it,” Fergusson replied, knowing full well that Olivia was listening. He then pivoted away from the man and began to converse with Wheeler about the storm.

However, the tourist refused to be ignored. “That harmless front isn’t heading in this direction at all. Why worry about it? Didn’t you guys listen to the weather report?”

Fergusson put a lid on his takeout cup. “Oh, it’s comin’ all right. Too bad you’ll be gone.”

Wheeler tried not to smile as the seaman headed for the restroom. The tourist stared after him in befuddlement and the slightest tinge of anxiety. “Pffah! He’s nuts. What are they going to do? Run out and buy batteries and bottled water?”

“Not Fergusson,” Wheeler answered as though the question hadn’t been laced with sarcasm. “But Miss Olivia will prepare.” He winked at Olivia over the tourist’s head. “Chances are she’ll be good and ready for any storm. Wouldn’t be like her not to have a plan.”

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