Carol Ericson


A book in the Guardians of Coral Cove series, 2012


Kieran Roarke-A former prisoner of war, damaged and alone, he’s compelled to return to Coral Cove and the woman who got him through his imprisonment, even if he can’t remember her name. Once he meets her, and the son he hadn’t known about, he’ll do anything to protect them-even employ the brutal skills that have no place in civilized society.

Devon Reese-She returns to her hometown for peace and quiet when a neighbor is murdered and her son withdraws after the crime. But the killer follows her, suspecting she’s an eyewitness, and she must turn to the man she’d written off as dead, who’s now a stranger, to protect her and their son.

Michael Roarke-The murder of his grandmotherly neighbor sends the little boy into a private world of fear. What he’s not telling his mother might end up getting them both killed.

Mrs. Del Vecchio-This quirky senior citizen had a special relationship with Michael Roarke, but her murder winds up putting the boy in danger.

Johnny Del-Mrs. Del Vecchio’s dead husband was the leader of a gang of bank robbers. Does his criminal past cast a long shadow over the present?

Dr. Elena Estrada-This psychiatrist tries to help Michael come out of his shell…and puts herself in danger for her efforts.

Sam Frost-Dr. Estrada’s new boyfriend is friendly and helpful, but what does she really know about his past?

Bud “The Pelican” Pelicano-One of Johnny Del’s old cohorts, he died in prison, but may have lived long enough to pass off the secrets of his criminal past to his son.

Mayor Tyler Davis-He’s all about projecting a pristine image of Coral Cove to attract tourists, and he doesn’t appreciate the fact that big-city crime has followed Devon to his town. How far will he go to get her to leave?

Chapter One

Devon Reese stopped dead in her tracks. She balanced the laundry basket on her hip and tilted her head, listening for a second thump from downstairs. Either Mrs. Del Vecchio had just knocked something over or the eighty-year-old widow had taken up aerobics.

Hearing only street noises from her North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco wafting through the open window, Devon hitched up the basket and pushed the bathroom door wide. She plucked her towel from the rack and swept up Michael’s towel from the floor. She tossed a few washcloths into the basket and then gripped the handles.

She tiptoed past the closed door of Michael’s room where he was napping, and padded into the kitchen on bare feet. Crouching down, she grabbed a bottle of detergent from under the sink and then dumped some quarters into her palm. Devon dreaded laundry day, especially since she had to haul down to the ground floor for the laundry room.

She snagged her keys from the hook by the door. Once in the hallway, she turned to lock the deadbolt. Even as a single mom, she felt safe in their building with the security door in the front. But she never left Michael alone in an unlocked apartment, even for the five minutes it took to load the laundry in the washing machine.

Jogging down the stairs, Devon clutched the basket of towels to her chest and peered over the top. She hit the bottom step and crossed the hall in front of Mrs. Del Vecchio’s door. Maybe she should check up on the old gal. That thump could’ve meant a bad fall. She owed her that since Mrs. Del Vecchio had taken a particular interest in Michael, baking him cookies and telling him interesting, if unusual, stories about cops and robbers and pirates.

Devon peeked in at the silent machines in the laundry room and grinned. “It’s my lucky day.”

Sad but true that a couple of empty washing machines ranked up there as one of the highlights of her day off from the hospital. Since she’d lost her fiance and given birth to their son alone, she’d learned to find joy in the smallest pleasures of life.

As she loaded her towels, the door to the laundry room slammed shut. She jumped and spun around with her heart pounding. Lunging for the door, she swung it open and peered into the hallway just in time to see the security door to the building click shut.

Probably that annoying kid in the corner apartment upstairs. Last week he kept practicing skateboard jumps off the front steps of the apartment house.

Devon kicked down the door stopper and returned to the washing machine. She dumped her detergent into the receptacle and punched the buttons for a warm-water wash.

As she left the laundry room, she nearly bumped into Sharon Mosely, mother of the obnoxious teen. “Oops, excuse me, Sharon. Hey, did your son just come this way?”

Sharon squeezed past Devon with her own basket. “No. He’s at the skate park. Sorry for the incident on the steps last week. Just wait until your little one is a teenager. Enjoy him while he’s young and sweet.”

Devon rolled her eyes. “I plan to.”

She passed Mrs. Del Vecchio’s door and then backtracked. Pressing her ear against the panel, she tapped lightly. “Mrs. Del Vecchio?”


Devon knocked louder. “Mrs. Del Vecchio, are you in there? Are you okay?”

Holding her breath, Devon grasped the door handle and knocked again. It was a huge ordeal for Mrs. Del Vecchio to venture outside, so she had to be home. Besides, hadn’t Devon just heard a big thump from her apartment?

She twisted the door handle and let out a breath when it turned in her hand. Bumping the door with her hip, Devon called, “Mrs. Del Vecchio?”

The sound of running water filled the small apartment along with the overpowering scent of lemon. Drawing her brows over her nose, Devon crept farther into the room.

A couple of sofa pillows lay scattered on the floor. A desk drawer gaped open, its contents littering the carpet. Books tilted helter-skelter on a built-in shelf.

Devon folded her arms, her fingers pinching into her biceps. A chill inched its way up her spine with each step into the disordered apartment. “Mrs. Del Vecchio?”

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