Smoke and Mirrors, страница 1
Table of Contents
Praise for Taylor Anne
Smoke and Mirrors
In Loving Memory of Mom and Kevin
Thank you for purchasing this publication of The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
“Give me one good reason you won’t help me.”
Graeme shifted his weight from one leg to the other. His eyes bore into hers. “I’ll give you several. One, I am retired from the life I used to lead.” He lifted a finger for each statement. “Two, I don’t take cases with anyone I’m sleeping with.”
Her mouth fell open. The words stumbled out. “We are not sleeping together.”
He stepped closer to her. Not close enough that he was touching her, but close enough she could feel his warm breath on her face. “That’s open for discussion.”
“Oh.” She smelled the alcohol from the few beers he’d drank. The underlying strength in his body made her more aware of the surroundings.
“Three, I don’t take cases with anyone I’ve ever slept with.”
Abby took a step back. “So you do remember.”
Graeme gazed at her from under hooded eyes. His stare swept from her head to her toes, back up to her face and stopped to linger on her lips. “Yeah, I remember.”
Praise for Taylor Anne
“When a storyline worries me while I am away from the book, I know I am well and truly hooked…”
~Vonnie Davis, author of Tumbleweed Letters
“I read this book in a day, and I really LOVED it…”
~Leanne Davis, author of Poison and Notorious
A CHRISTMAS FOR SANTA
2015 Best in Holidays award for A Christmas for Santa. ~Authors on the Air Global Radio Network
Smoke and Mirrors
Up In Smoke Series
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Smoke and Mirrors
COPYRIGHT © 2016 by Taylor Anne
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by Debbie Taylor
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Crimson Rose Edition, 2016
Print ISBN 978-1-5092-0692-6
Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-0693-3
Up In Smoke Series
Published in the United States of America
Smoke and Mirrors is dedicated to
the many faces that helped put it together:
My family, who inspire me more than they know.
My mother, who had a rough year with her health, but is always there to listen to my ideas and give feedback.
Friends, whose encouragement and support mean everything.
Thanks to the random police officer who overheard me and my assistant “discussing” crime details. Your input nailed the problem.
My sincere gratitude to Captain Michael of the local Fire Department for the valuable information. Any errors in fact are my misinterpretations, not his information.
And mostly thanks, love, hugs, and kisses to my amazing, valuable assistant, Brandy. This story would not have happened without your help, persistence, support, and mostly your love and laughter.
You all rock!
In Loving Memory of Mom and Kevin
Mom, your sweet smile and spirit will live with me always.
Kevin, your love and caring heart
will never be forgotten.
You were both taken too soon,
but it is comforting to know you are reunited
and rejoicing in your final resting place.
Love you always!
“Abby, it’s not too late to enter into the program. This case is going to blow up any day now, and I don’t want you at risk.”
Abby Monroe gripped her cell phone to her ear, trying not to be annoyed with her friend, Detective Laci Ramsey. How many times would they have this same conversation?
“I can’t. I have a nineteen-year old daughter in college. She and my parents are four hours away from here and even that is too many. I can’t move farther away from them. I can’t just disappear and leave them.”
Sighing, she pinched her nose with her fingers, then ambled across the carpeted floor to the patio doors, swung them open, stepped outside, and inhaled the salty ocean air. The sun was only a few hours away from setting. Abby delighted in the peace and serenity of watching the setting sun from her uncle’s beach house—her home for now. Bold, intense reds and oranges meshed with the calming blue of the ocean.
“I understand, but you know it would be temporary. As soon as we put LJ, Alonzo, and their boss behind bars for good, you could come out. Until then, I would rest better if they had no way of tracking you down.”
“Ramsey, it’s out of the question. Let’s follow the plan we set up. Contact the Orange Beach Police Department and fill them in. They can check on me and watch the house all they want. I am not going to let LJ force me into running scared.” But wasn’t that exactly what he’d done considering she’d taken refuge hours away from her home? She closed her eyes and tried to rein in her fears.
Laci sighed. “Okay, we’ll try it your way first. I can’t force you into the program. My boss is not going to be happy about this, but thankfully he trusts my judgement. And I am trusting you. But if there’s any sign of danger, we will reconsider this situation. I’m telling you this as a friend as well as a cop. And stop calling me by my last name, Abby Monroe. You know I hate that.”
Abby gazed out at the beach, smiled at the kids playing in the sand, as well as the urgency of the woman’s voice on the other end of the phone. Her heart warmed at the closeness she and Laci shared. The ten-year age difference between them only enhanced their friendship over the years. There were times when being the older friend didn’t necessarily make her the wiser one. Laci was young, independent, and full of spunk both in her personal life and hard earned career. She had a good head on her shoulders.
“Gotcha, Laci. If I need anything I know who to call.” And it wasn’t going to be the local police. At least that wasn’t her plan. Abby had spent the last few days settling into Uncle Mark’s beach house and searching the internet for the one man she trusted to protect her. Graeme Tucker. Now to find out if he would stand by his word from seven years ago.
“All right.” There was a pause. “Besides, I miss my two best buds. You and Lauren mean the world to me. Hell, she’s like my own daughter.”
“Okay. Take care.”
Abby hung up the phone, then went back inside and closed and locked the door. She pulled her red cover-up over her bathing suit, grabbed her keys, and headed down the beach. After a few steps, she reached down and pulled off her sandals. Her bare feet sank into the sugary sands. There was nothing more peaceful than strolling along the beach, the sun warming her skin, the salty air teasing her nostrils. Pure bliss.
Laci would be angry if she knew Abby relocated to the beach to find and obtain the help of an old flame. He may be the owner of a popular bar now, but Abby knew very well the man was capable of protecting her. His line of work took him through dangers a person should never have to imagine. Her stomach knotted up at the thought of seeing Graeme after all this time. Would he welcome her back into his life? Would he even remember her? Seven years had passed since their encounter at her cousin’s wedding, but she remembered it like it was last week. They met literally minutes before the ceremony. From that point on, there was an unspoken connection between them. That was the one and only time Abby had seen Graeme Tucker. And that’s all it took for the man to leave a huge impression on her that lasted seven years.
The half-mile trek to Tucker’s relaxed and rejuvenated her. Seagulls dipped down, picking up scraps of food left behind by people. Some of the birds even dropped to the balconies of the condos when the kids tossed chunks of food upward. Laughter filled the air as the birds swooped down to devour the grub.
A soccer ball landed in the sand a few feet away from her. She picked it up and turned to see who it belonged to. A boy who appeared to be around ten called out, “sorry ma’am.”
Abby laughed and tossed the ball back to him. “No problem. Here you go.” He smiled and waved before he turned to join his friends once again. They were only one of a few groups of people playing on the beach. The end of April was typically pretty empty around there. The calm before the rush of summer crowds would invade every inch of the sandy shores.
The second she saw the worn wooden sign, Tucker’s, she knew she found Graeme Tucker’s bar. According to the information she found on the internet, that was the only bar for several miles that actually sat on the beach, and not up toward the main road. The open wooden bar sat halfway between the water’s edge on one side and the houses and condos that lined the street on the other side. She made a complete circle around the building, examining every detail. Rustic weathered wood made up the side wall and open shutters were scattered every few feet. Their navy and white were inviting, but they were in need of a fresh paint job. The fresh breeze blew in through the openings. The back of the building was closed in with an Employee Only entrance. On the beach side there were several tables set up for those customers who preferred to be outside. Opened umbrellas covered the tables, allowing a little reprieve from the sun. The front of the building had screens covering the openings above the half walls. The door was propped open with a wooden chair. The sounds of the familiar beach tune Margaritaville reverberated through the air, not too loud, but loud enough to be heard outside the open door.
Abby stopped fifteen feet from the door. Wow. She remembered that bar from days before Graeme owned it. Hell, the bar had been there forever. It was a little different from when she and Brooke would frequent it, but it was most definitely the same bar. They shared some wild and crazy nights there when they were in high school. Back then it was a sandwich shop as well as bar, so people of all ages were welcomed. On weekends the place tended to get a little rowdy with tourists drinking and having a good time. And some of the locals, like Abby and Brooke, definitely did their share of partying there.
Inside, the place wasn’t full, but there were several people scattered around a few of the wooden tables. A group of twenty-something’s sat in a corner booth, whistling and hooting at something they found interesting. The upbeat music coming from speakers hinted at the bustling activity of nights to come. Abby breezed across the sandy wooden floor and climbed onto an empty barstool at the end of the long bar. The layout was the same as she remembered, but the furnishings and décor were totally different. Gone were the menus hanging on the walls that offered sandwiches, ice cream, and sodas. In their place was a long counter lined with liquor bottles with a mirror on the wall behind them. And gone were the video games they used to play for hours on end. Instead, now there was a stage set up to accommodate a small band. She wondered how often Graeme had a live band playing there. That would be nice to listen to.
A man stood behind the bar, mixing and serving drinks. He tipped the bill of his cap with his finger signaling he would be with her soon. If she had to guess, she would put him in his late twenties to early thirties. Dark blond strands of hair stuck out from beneath his Cardinals baseball cap. He mixed drinks quickly and efficiently while flirting with two women. Every time he said something to them, they giggled and cooed at him. The bleached blonde ran a red fingernail down the bartender’s arm. Her looks and actions clearly showed her desire to jump across the bar into his arms. And possibly his bed. He smirked at the woman before turning away to tend to other customers.
He carried two drinks to a table a few feet from Abby. He placed a bottle of beer in front of a man then turned his attention to the woman. Laying a napkin down on the table, he glanced up and caught Abby watching him. He winked at her, then set the woman’s daiquiri on the table in front of her before he went back behind the bar.
He was a flirt, but Abby would bet he didn’t follow up on much of his actions. He was a bartender there to entertain people, especially the ladies. And he had the stereotype beach tanned, long-haired good looks to him. He was the type of man who knew it and worked it. Just an observation on Abby’s part. She shook her head and took a seat, waiting for him to make his way over to her. It didn’t take long before he was standing at the end of the bar, in front of her, his eyes twinkling mischief.
“What can I get for you?” He set a napkin down in front of her.
“Pink Rapture, please.” He grabbed a bottle of raspberry vodka and a pitcher of pink lemonade. He poured just the right amount of each liquid into a glass, then squeezed a twist of a fresh lemon and placed the tumbler in front of her. He watched her take her first sip. The cool liquid slid down her throat. Add knowing how to make a killer drink to his flirty characteristics. Abby gave a thumbs up as her acceptance. He winked before whirling away to shut the front door and then serve another customer.
The only people she’d seen besides customers were the busy bartender and a young girl, who was probably in college. She was friendly, outgoing, and energetic and did a good job of cleaning up as customers left. She was also quick to bring drinks to the patrons. Where could Graeme be? She was certain this was the right place. Hell, it was even named after Graeme Tucker. Tucker’s—not Bar or Place, simply Tucker’s. Direct and to the point, just the way she remembered the man. Chimes echoed throughout the room. The front door opened with a swoosh. Abby took a deep breath and turned to face whoever was entering the bar. Two couples came in, looked around, and sat at a table in the corner. Abby turned back to her drink knowing that no one knew where she was, so she really didn’t have any reason to be too concerned.
Graeme hung up the phone and stood behind his desk, running his hands through his hair. Another delay in the liquor shipment that should’ve been there two days ago. Damn. Now either he or Cooper would have to make a run to the local warehouse to stock up for next week. Cooper had been telling him to find another supplier. Guess it was time to listen to him. The man really did have a good business head. Of course Graeme couldn’t tell him that. It would go straight to the man’s head and he would never let Graeme forget that he had been wrong about something. Cooper could be such an ass. But he was a great friend and co-worker. Graeme couldn’t run this place without his help.
He ambled around the desk toward the door but stopped dead in his t
He put his hands in his pockets and leaned back on his heels. No, she would have no reason to be there in Orange Beach. Except for the fact that Brooke and Kyle lived there. But surely her cousin’s husband would’ve told Graeme if she was coming to visit. Wouldn’t he? Probably not. There would have been no reason for him to mention it to Graeme. After all, Abby had been there before now to visit her cousin. It amazed Graeme that their paths never crossed during those visits. But he was either away working, tied up at the bar, or off somewhere else at the time. It seemed he always found out about the visits after the fact. Sure, if he’d known about them ahead, he could’ve made it a point to run into her, but would it have even mattered to her? No.
This woman couldn’t be her. She would not be here without her cousin. Besides, she probably didn’t even remember him. It was only one night. She certainly didn’t know the impact she left on his life. He remembered every detail about that night. Every touch of her hands on his body, every breath she breathed. The way her eyes lit with fire when he stared into them. He still remembered how they pushed each other’s limits, exploring things neither one ever had before. All Graeme had to do was watch the expression in her blue eyes and he knew whether to be gentle or rough it up a bit. She liked the excitement of rough, but not too much. Instinctively he knew her limits and respected them. And when it was gentle, they connected not only through their bodies, but through their minds as well.
The woman stilled, her back rigid like a board. Her legs were crossed and the one that was swinging stopped instantly. She set her drink down on the bar. Even from there, Graeme saw her hands trembling on the glass. She turned her head, scanned the room. As if she sensed something out of the ordinary, she faced toward the mirror. He should’ve moved away, but instead, he locked eyes with the most stunning pair of sapphire blues he’d ever seen. His jaw dropped open. He knew she couldn’t see him through the mirror, but he felt like she was staring into his soul.