Private eye Noah Braddock has finally found peace in his once tumultuous relationship with Detective Liz Santangelo and has called a tentative truce with his alcoholic mother, Carolina. So when lawyer Darcy Gill demands that he look into a hopeless death row case, he’s more interested in catching some waves before San Diego’s rare winter weather takes hold. Then Darcy plays her trump card: the man scheduled to die—convicted of killing two men in cold blood—is the father Noah never knew


Jeff Shelby

The Last Day of February

I wondered how it had come to this.

No. That wasn’t right.

I knew exactly how it had come to this.

Lightning shattered the sky and raked the black surface of the ocean.

The rain spilling out from above hit my face and body like a shower as I stood on my patio, soaking me and the duffel bag slung over my shoulder.

The water stung the cut above my eye and grew the bloody stain on my shirt.

I knew that I wouldn’t ever stand on this patio again, stare at this view again, live in this home again.

Thunder rolled off the Pacific like it was coming through a megaphone, rattling the windows and doors of all the homes on the boardwalk. The rain picked up velocity, splashing into the puddles on the ground.

I wiped the water from my eyes and took another look, making sure that all of it—my home, the view, this world I had created for myself—would never leave my memory.

I knew that it wouldn’t. And I knew that the memories of the last month wouldn’t leave me either.

Things like that don’t leave you. They inhabit you. Forever.

I turned to the glass door and squinted through the reflected bands of rain. My gun lay on the kitchen table. Two surfboards stood in the corner. Most everything I owned was still inside. I didn’t know what would happen to those things. And I didn’t care.

The lightning cracked again behind me. A starter’s pistol, telling me it was time to go.

I stepped off the patio and headed for the car, leaving the remains of my life behind.



“You have an admirer,” Liz Santangelo said.

She and I were on my patio under a San Diego sun that was threatening to disappear into a February storm. I was getting ready to hit the water, and Liz was about to head to work.

Without turning to look, I knew who she meant. A woman in her late twenties, small, attractive. She’d bicycled past on the boardwalk when Liz and I had first stepped outside. Now she was on the beach, off to our right, pretending to read a book. She was trying to be unobtrusive. I wasn’t the world’s greatest PI but I knew when someone was keeping an eye on me.

I tied a knot in the drawstring to my board shorts. “I don’t have a shirt on. Probably hard for her not to stare.”

“She must be too far away to see your faults,” Liz replied.

“Bah.” I pulled the red rash guard over my head, stretched it over my chest and moved my gaze to the woman. “Just intimidated by my looks.”

The woman turned away when our eyes met. She closed her book, picked up her towel, and headed up the beach to the north.

“Yes, clearly she’s infatuated,” Liz said.

The woman stepped off the sand, crossed the boardwalk, and disappeared down one of the many alleys that led to Mission Boulevard. I didn’t have an office and people regularly showed up on the beach, as it was the best place to find me. Usually they came and talked to me instead of disappearing into an alley, though.

“A long time ago, you staring at her ass like that would’ve bothered me,” Liz said, tugging on my hand.

I laughed and turned back to her. “Not what I was looking at.”

Liz and I had finally uncomplicated our complicated relationship. After years of ebb and flow, we were riding the same current. I was a private investigator; she was a homicide detective. We butted heads professionally, and that had screwed up the personal side of things. But after working a case that made me reevaluate what was important, I had gone looking for some normalcy and good in my life.

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