Excerpt for A Prince on the Run, A Royal Sweethearts Romance Novel, Book 1 The Casteloria by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A Prince on the Run

Book 1 of The Casteloria Royals Series

Originally published as Laying Low in Paradise


Kristy K. James



Copyright 2013 – Kristy K. James


All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be copied or reprinted without express written permission from author.



Someone wants him dead. She just wants a vacation.

From the author of the popular Coach’s Boys series comes Book 1 in The Casteloria Royals Trilogy

Cameron Rafferty is keeping secrets. Dangerous secrets that could endanger the lives of everyone around him. His plan was simple...keep a low profile until the would-be-killer was found. And things were going smoothly, until a small complication changed everything. Soon, he finds himself becoming more involved with the family next door—and wishing for things he shouldn't. Things that will put their lives in jeopardy, too.

Spending summers at the chalet was a tradition for author Laura Keane and her young son. Filled with memories of the husband she lost to war, she looked forward to days spent reminiscing, playing, and plotting another novel. She didn't expect this year to be any different— but that was before their handsome neighbor came to her rescue like a knight in shining armor. Will that armor be tarnished when she discovers who he is and why he's hiding out in northern Michigan?

If you like your romance novels served up with a little suspense and mystery, humor, and an interesting mix of supporting characters, you just might love Kristy K. James’ modern day fairytale. 

Join Cameron and Laura as they discover that while Bois Blanc Island is the perfect place for fun-filled summer days and relaxing evenings—it might be an even better place to fall in love again. As long as the wrong people don’t find them first.

Filled with romance, intrigue, secrets, and danger, The Casteloria Royals is a series you can't help but fall in love with. Each story is complete with no cliffhanger endings.

Originally published as Laying Low in Paradise.


Follow Kristy on Bookbub!

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/kristy-k-james


Other Works by Kristy K. James


Coach's Boys Series

The Daddy Pact, Book 1

A Hero for Holly, Book 2

A Harry Situation, Book 3

Her Best Friend Jon, Book 4

Code Red Christmas, Book 5

Darby's Dilemma, Book 6

The Detective's Second Chance, Book 7

Back to the Beginning, Book 8

Holding Out For Love, Coach's Boys Companion Story (should be read between books 6 & 7)

Cooking With the Coach's Boys


A Royal Sweethearts Romance Novel Series

The Casteloria Royals

A Prince on the Run, Book 1

The Physician to the King, Book 2

The Princess and the Bodyguard, Book 3


Hemisphere/Paranormal Romance

The Ripple

Haunted Depot: The Ghost Curse Series

The Secret, Book 1

The Depot, Book 2

A Merry Depot Christmas, Book 3


Special Wishes Time Travel Romance

His Only Love

Her Long Road Home


Other Fiction:

Enza

Josh

The Secret Admirer

Erin's Christmas Wish

A Fine Mess

Reluctant Guardian




I’d like to take a moment to let my wonderful beta readers know how much I appreciate them. Your help is invaluable. So thank you, thank you, thank you to Shineka, Debbie, Amanda, Brittany, Brandi, Danielle and Judith. You’ve helped to make A Prince on the Run a better book with your keen eyes and great suggestions.


Laura’s Chicken Stew and Dumplings

Technically, this is my recipe. However, while working on the book, Laura sampled my stew and fell in love with it. So after talking it over, we decided to share it with all of you. As with most of my recipes, measurements are rarely exact.

Brown 4 chicken leg quarters (with skin) in a bit of canola oil. Add a small pinch of sweet basil, 1 small bay leaf, a couple of shakes of garlic powder, and salt to taste. Barely cover with water (I prefer chicken broth) and cook until tender.

While waiting, peel, cube and rinse about 6 potatoes. Peel and slice 3-4 carrots. When chicken is ready, remove it from pan. Strain yucky stuff from broth and wipe pan out. Put the broth back and add veggies. Cook until almost tender.

While waiting for those, carefully separate meat from skin and bone. Be careful, it’s hot. This is also a good time to mix up your dumpling batter. You can follow the directions on a box of biscuit mix, or use the mix and add a little salt and enough milk to make it look right (my preference…hate dirtying measuring cups if I don’t have to).

When veggies are nearly done, add the pieces of chicken and stir. Spoon dumpling batter into boiling broth, cover, turn heat to simmer and set the timer for about 20 minutes.


***Gluten-free version for the dumplings***

I tried just about everything to come up with a dumpling that tasted even a little bit like the real things … and was disappointed every time. Until I tried them with Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix.

I don’t measure anything, just dump some of the mix in a bowl, add a little unprocessed Celtic sea salt, and enough milk to make it like a dumpling batter should look – slightly thinner than a biscuit batter. Then I drop scant 1/4 cup scoops into boiling broth (or the stew), cover and cook for about 15 minutes, or until it’s not goopy when you pull one apart with a fork. ***Note: the finished dumplings should be no bigger than a lemon or tangerine. Any bigger and they don’t taste or feel right.



PROLOGUE


Their footsteps echoed on the worn marble floor as they passed by the guard. Tense and standing at the ready, his fingers were wrapped so tightly around the assault rifle held across his chest that they were white.

As he and his companion approached the ornately carved double doors, Liam’s shoulders slumped. He felt as though he’d aged two decades during the past hour, and he knew it was going to get nothing but worse in the next few minutes. As his steps faltered, and finally stopped just shy of his destination, the young man stood at his side, patting his shoulder awkwardly.

“If it would be easier, I can tell them.”

“No,” he said softly. “It’s for me to do. I just wish-” When it became obvious that he couldn’t finish the thought, another awkward pat followed the first.

“It’s all right. We shall just wait until you’re ready.”

“We’ll be standing out here for eternity if we do that, because I’ll never be ready for this.” With a heavy heart, he sighed and reached out, his hand closing around the cold steel knob. “They’re waiting.”

When they entered the windowless room, the women rose from the sofa, coming to their feet as one, standing close, clutching one another as they searched his face. He knew the exact moment when Maeve understood what he couldn’t bring himself to put into words. Her hands tightened on Briannon’s until they shook. Briannon, though, simply demanded,

“Are they all right?”

“They’re gone,” he whispered, watching his daughter’s face twist in pain. Maeve hadn’t moved so much as a muscle since she’d realized the news would be bad.

“How?” she asked, her lips barely moving. He thought she resembled a statue, standing there so pale and still.

“The brake lines were cut.”

Briannon winced. Maeve didn’t react at all.

“Did they suffer?” Briannon asked, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“They never regained consciousness, so no, they didn’t suffer.”

“Do you think- It’s the same as it was with-”

“Yes, I’m sure the same person, or people, are responsible.”

“I need to see them,” Maeve said, her voice stronger, matter of fact.

“No. No, the injuries were such that it won’t be permitted. I’ve ordered the – bodies – sent directly to the crematorium.

Maybe it was because she’d taken the initial news so quietly that the screams that filled the air seemed almost deafening. When Briannon couldn’t stop her from crumpling to the floor, she too, sank down, holding her mother as the tortured shrieks quieted to sobs.

When he still stood there, unable to go to his family, the young man at his side glared at him before hurrying to the women, gathering them into his arms. But all he could do was watch, vowing that this time, whoever was responsible would pay.

“You will all three remain here until we know it’s safe,” he murmured, turning toward the door. “And after today, no one leaves the grounds without armed guards.”





CHAPTER 1


“Sometimes I wish I could just wiggle my nose or nod my head,” Laura Keane sighed, pulling into the parking spot that would be home to her seven-year-old Jeep Cherokee for most of the summer. “The traffic was brutal – and it’s not even a holiday.”

“Well, I know you know how to nod your head, but I don’t know how that, or wiggling your nose, could have helped,” twelve-year-old Sam said vaguely.

A quick glance his way, and Laura couldn’t hold back a grin. Even before the words left his mouth, he was throwing the passenger door open and scanning the marina for the boat, her references to Jeannie and Samantha already a memory.

Since heading out from Lansing at six that morning, Sam had been anxious for the long drive to be over. Not many boys on the brink of becoming a teenager would look forward to a summer of relative solitude on Bois Blanc Island. But every year he couldn’t wait to arrive, and then he dragged his heels when it was time to head back home for the school year.

Of course, some of his best and happiest moments with Jake had taken place on that little stretch of beach, so that probably explained his enthusiasm. Even though she’d had several videos of their family burned to a DVD, sometimes she was afraid that he would forget the father who had loved him so very much. Maybe Sam was afraid he would, too.

“There it is!” he exclaimed, yanking the back door open. “Mr. Benton has it ready for us.”

Rather than pointing out the fact that she paid Mr. Benton well to not only store the boat, but to have it ready for them when they needed it, Laura opened her door, taking a moment to savor the familiar sights, sounds and smells before she got out.

Gulls soared overhead, screeching as they circled above the beach, on the lookout for the tourists who kept them supplied with pieces of sandwiches and other treats. Waves lapping up on shore, the brisk breeze blowing in across Lake Huron. She couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place on earth to spend a long, relaxing vacation.

“Hey, Mom! C’mon. Help out a little here, huh?” Sam asked impatiently.

Laura quickly exited the jeep and pulled a couple of suitcases from the back, while her son loaded himself down with plastic grocery bags.

“We don’t have to get it all in one trip,” she reminded him.

“No, but the quicker we load the boat, the quicker we can get home,” he said logically.

“Just don’t hurt yourself.”

They hurried down to the dock, depositing the first batch of supplies in the boat before heading back up for the rest of their gear.

“Good morning, Ms. Keane,” Henry Benton called from his lounge chair on the beach.

“Good morning, Mr. Benton. How are you today?”

“Couldn’t be better,” he assured her with a grin. “Need some help there?”

“Thanks but we’ve got it. It feels good to be moving around after that drive.” Henry Benton must be nearing seventy and, though he appeared to be in excellent health, Laura worried about him hauling anything heavier than his fishing pole.

“Couldn’t have picked a better day for it though. Clear as a bell since I got up this morning. Not a cloud in the sky.”

“Can’t argue with you there,” she said with a laugh, adding three of the seven bags of groceries to the boat. “Wish I could say the same thing about the freeway.”

“See a lot of clouds on the road, did you now?” Henry teased.

“Ha-ha.” She heard Sam snicker behind her. “I wish it had been clear, but there were about ten million cars, trucks, SUV’s, semis, and motorhomes. You name it, and they were on the road.”

“That’s true,” Sam laughed. “And they were all out there just to aggravate my mom.”

“That what she thinks?”

“Yup.” Both Henry and Sam had a good laugh over that, as the last of the groceries were removed from the Jeep. Laura locked it up, and they wandered back down to the dock.

“Do you know if anyone is occupying the other chalets yet?” she asked, stopping for a moment to chat with Henry.

“As a matter of fact, Ben Pommeroy was telling me just the other day that he rented all three of them for the whole summer. Looks like you and the boy will have neighbors.”

“I sure hope they’re quieter than that bunch from last year,” Laura muttered, shuddering at the thought of another invasion of college boys with a penchant for loud music and late night partying. It had been a solid month of misery, and one she didn’t want to repeat.

“No worries there. Ben said they’re all adults and they seemed like good, respectful people.”

“Well that’s a relief.”

“He also said they’d liked to have rented your place, too. Said he was going to offer you ten thousand more than he did last year.” Laura shook her head when Sam’s gaze met hers.

“I’m afraid poor Ben is going to be disappointed again. The chalet is not, and never will be, put on the market. It was nice seeing you, Henry.” She nodded toward the boat where Sam was drumming his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. Henry grinned.

“Nice seeing you, too, Ms Keane. Safe trip. You get your satellite turned on?” Laura nodded. “You’ll be wanting to keep an eye on the weather station. They’re calling for a doozy of a storm system to move in around Thursday. You might want to get over here before it hits to stock up on some supplies.”

“If it gets bad, we’ll just make do with whatever we have on hand. If it lasts too long, Harpers will do in a pinch.”

Harpers was a small general store about five miles southeast from the beach. Basically it was a small, well-stocked convenience store with a depression-era décor. Only the famous television family it brought to mind would never have found nacho cheese tortilla chips, frozen pizza, or DVD’s for rent there.

As soon as they were clear of the marina, Laura let Sam take over for the almost twenty-minute trip to the island. Sitting back, she admired her son.

Already several inches taller than her five feet, five inches, Sam was the spitting image of his father. Or he would be. Still lean and angular, he had a ways to go, but she had no doubt he would fill out as nicely as Jake had. Sometimes her son would look at her with Jake’s big blue eyes and impish grin, and Laura’s heart would ache.

“There’s the house, Mom!” Sam glanced back over his shoulder, smiling from ear-to-ear. Laura nodded, blinking back the tears stinging her eyes.

So like his father. The only real difference was the hair. Where Jake’s had been coarse, a bit on the curly side, and jet-black, Sam got his from Laura. Mostly. A shade or two darker than her chestnut mane, his was soft and fine like hers. But while Laura wore hers long, nearly to her waist, Sam chose a popular, more spiky style. It looked kind of like a scruffy fox fur hat she’d seen once. Totally adorable, only she kept that opinion to herself. Sam would turn ten shades of red if she told him that.

Jake would have been so proud of his only child…

“Want me to dock it?” Startled, Laura jumped to her feet, shaking her head to clear her thoughts.

“Let’s work on that over the summer, okay?” she suggested, quickly taking the wheel.

“I’m not Robbie, Mom,” he said with a chuckle.

Robbie, a boy who had been on the island with his parents two years before, had demolished the dock, and sunk their snazzy little speedboat in the process, because he hadn't known what he was doing. Unfortunately his parents hadn’t been the sort to ever tell him no. Of course, that might have changed after they’d gotten the repair bills. Probably not, but anything was possible.

“I know you’re not. And I do trust you. But I think we need to work up to it.”

“Okay.” Sam slung an arm around her shoulders and hugged her. “I think I’d rather try it when everyone else is gone anyway.”

“Why? No witnesses if you did take it out?” Laura teased. She watched as Sam tried to hide it, and then he gave up and grinned at her.

“It never ceases to amaze me what a smart mom I have.”

As Laura slowed the boat, she saw a couple of bikini-clad women exit the last in the row of four chalets, the one directly to the north of theirs. They looked to be in their mid-twenties, talking and laughing as they wandered down to the narrow, sandy beach. A couple of low lounge chairs sat near the water’s edge, and they flopped down, settling in for what looked like a long afternoon of sunbathing.

A discreet glance at Sam, and she was fighting back a smile. The new neighbors hadn’t escaped his notice either. In fact, if his expression was anything to go by, he was more than a little impressed.

“You’re growing up too fast, Romeo,” she said, turning the key off and depositing it in her purse, even as she nudged his side. “Want to tie us off before we drift back out?”

“What?” Sam looked at her blankly, and then blushed hotly before jumping out onto the dock. “Sorry, Mom.”

“Pretty, aren’t they?” she said, handing him a couple of suitcases after he’d secured the boat. She grabbed her purse and half a dozen grocery bags, and they hurried across the sand and up the steps leading to the spacious deck.

“Well, sure they are. Why else would I be looking?” he shot back smartly. Laura laughed.

With a pang, she realized that he was growing up fast. Only six more years until he graduated. Six more summers together. Maybe. Part-time jobs, a driver’s license, and girlfriends were just around the corner. Before she knew it, he might not be quite as thrilled to leave them all behind.

Shaking off the sudden wave of sadness, she unlocked the French doors and stepped inside the cool, dark house.

As usual, the air was faintly musty, having been closed up for the past nine months. Laura quickly opened the drapes covering the wall of windows, then the windows themselves. She repeated the action in the spacious, almost all glass kitchen, both bedrooms, bathrooms and, finally, the laundry room located near the back door.

On her way back through, she removed the dust covers from all the furniture, sighing because it meant a couple loads of laundry, but that beat the heck right out of dusting and vacuuming everything when they arrived every year.

“I got the fridge plugged in. Want me to wipe it out?” Sam asked, heading out to the kitchen with the last of the bags of groceries.

“Want to sweep and damp mop instead?” she offered, preferring to do the kitchen herself. Her idea of clean often differed from Sam’s idea of clean, and she’d rather not take a chance in the place where she prepared their meals. “After we’re finished getting settled, we can get the Jet Skis out if you like.”

“All right!” he shouted, pumping a fist in the air – just before he reached out to muss her hair. “Don’t just stand there, Mom. Move it!”

About thirty seconds later REO Speedwagon was blasting from the stereo speakers in the living room. Laura couldn’t have been more thankful that she’d raised her son on good music. Not that he didn’t love the stuff other kids his age preferred, but he considered himself fortunate that she wasn’t a big fan of country or classical, so he was perfectly fine listening to what she enjoyed. And listening to it fairly loud, too, but not so much that windows rattled or neighbors complained.

By one o’clock, they were as settled as they would ever be, and they sat down to a quick lunch of ham sandwiches, baked tortilla chips, salsa and tea. Sam could hardly contain his excitement and practically inhaled his food. Not that he didn’t inhale his food every other day, he just had a better reason to this time.

Getting the water toys out also meant breaking out Jake’s prized possession, a chrome, four-seat dune buggy. Unless they wanted to pull the heavy trailer across the sand themselves, there wasn’t any other way to get it down to the beach and, right or wrong, Laura had promised her son that he could have that honor this year.

They had, in fact, been practicing for a few weeks now, Sam behind the wheel of her Jeep in the parking lot of an abandoned store. Except the trailer had been on the island, which meant their practice sessions hadn’t been very effective. She was more than a little nervous thinking about what could happen between the shed and the water.

“Don’t worry, Mom. I can handle it,” Sam said suddenly. Laura looked at him in surprise.

“Mind reading now?”

“Na. I just know my mother. Right now you’re probably thinking about replacing the dock, or the bill for repairing the buggy if I sink it.”

“More along the lines of rescuing you if something goes wrong. But,” she added quickly, seeing his disappointment, “I trust you, and I think you’ll be fine.” The grin was back.

“Then hurry up. We’ve still got to get our wetsuits on. It won’t be as cold if we get out there before the sun goes down.”

“The sun doesn’t set for hours, and that water is always cold.”

Laura laughed, popping the last bite of her sandwich in her mouth and carrying her plate to the sink, which was all the clean-up required. Sam had put items she’d used to prepare the meal away as she finished with each one, anticipation making him more helpful than usual. “Meet you on the deck in about five minutes.”


~~~~~


Cameron Rafferty hadn’t meant to spy on his new neighbors but, as all the chalets had massive walls of windows, it was hard not to notice what went on when drapes and blinds were open. For the past few hours he’d watched mother and son move like whirlwinds as they cleaned the home that had been closed up for the winter.

When they disappeared after their midday meal, he sauntered out to his deck with a book, prepared to read the afternoon away beneath the shade of the umbrella over the patio table. Relaxing was the goal, however elusive that goal might be.

With a sigh, Cameron raised his legs, planting his feet in the seat of the chair across from him, leaned back, and opened the book to page one. Maybe Mr. King could frighten him to distraction.

Or not.

He’d assumed the newcomers were taking a nap. According to his landlord, they lived fairly far south in lower Michigan. To have arrived around ten, they must have left shortly after the sun had come up –and should be exhausted. However, the wetsuits they now wore, and the way they laughed their way to the detached garage, indicated otherwise.

So much for peace and quiet, he thought, when an engine of some sort roared to life. He couldn’t help but wonder what motors and wetsuits had in common.

“Sam! Keep your foot on the brake. No, it will move by itself as long as it’s in gear. You just keep your foot on the brake and – turn the wheel to the right. Not that hard! You’re going to hit the house! Okay. Just stop for a second!”

By this time, Cameron’s curiosity was piqued and he tried to see what was going on around his book. It wouldn’t do to appear nosy, even if that’s exactly what he was being.

“You’re making me nervous, Mom.” The woman laughed out loud, and Cameron smiled, guessing what her reaction might be to that statement. She didn’t disappoint.

“I’m making you nervous?” Another chuckle. “You just about gave me a heart attack. The kitchen is not a parking garage.”

“Ha-ha.”

“Okay. One more time, steer gently to your left if you want the back of the trailer to move right. Steer gently to your right if you want it to move left. Here, put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. That’ll help keep your movements small.”

“I’m not sure I can straighten it out like this.”

“Just pull forward.”

“This is harder than it looks.”

“It is, but you can do it.”

“If I can, I should be able to drive the Jeep with no problem.” The mother laughed merrily at that.

“Four more years, mister. Except for parking lots.”

“And the buggy.”

“Sometimes the buggy. Ready to try again? This suit is getting a little warm.”

“I suppose so. Stand back, Mom.”

“Just keep your foot-”

“On the brake. I know.”

To his credit, the boy managed fairly well for one so young. He had to pull forward twice more to straighten the trailer out, but neither time was off as much as the first.

The woman alternated between walking and jogging alongside the dune buggy, all the while calling out instructions. Cameron was impressed with her patience, especially considering the fact that she seemed torn between wanting to take over and allowing her son to have his little adventure.

Soon the boy, Sam, was holding the Jet Skis near the beach while his mother quickly, and with the ease of experience, backed the trailer in the garage before sprinting back down to join her son.

Cameron noted she wore her dark hair in a thick braid that reached the middle of her back, and it bounced with every step. A nice look for her, but he thought it was prettier loose, as she’d worn it earlier while cleaning.

“Race you to Bennett’s Cove,” Sam challenged after they had mounted the machines. The only cove Cameron had seen had to be a good mile down the beach, and he wondered if that was where they were headed.

“You’re on.”

“If I win, we get to make a bonfire and have hot dogs and S'mores for supper.”

“Yuck. If I win, you have to do dishes after the supper of my choosing.”

“Deal. You ready?” Laura nodded, and Sam shouted, “Ready, set….go!”

“There goes the neighborhood,” Finley Hughes said with a sigh, taking a seat in one of the Adirondack chairs on the other side of the deck.

“They’re just having fun,” Cameron said a little defensively.

“Noisy fun.”

“Jet Skis make noise. You should know because I do believe one of those tied up on our dock has your name on it. Lighten up, Fin.”

“It was easier before they showed up.”

Cameron chuckled, shaking his head. One could always depend on Finley to see the negative side of any situation.

“They come every summer. Mr. Pommeroy told us that before we signed the lease.”

“I was hoping they might change their minds this year.”

“Finley, I hardly think we need to worry about a widow and her adolescent son.”

“I’m not worried about them. We pretend they don’t exist, they leave us alone.”

“Oh that will work,” Cameron muttered. “I thought the plan was to not draw attention to ourselves.”

“Ignoring them will keep them away.”

“First of all, we don’t even know if they’ll want to socialize with us. Second, if they do, ignoring them would make them wonder more about us. At least it would make me wonder about an entire group of people bent on keeping to themselves.”

Finley pursed his lips and appeared to give the argument some thought. Then he nodded slowly.

“You’re probably right. But we don’t go out of our way to make their acquaintance. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

“Maybe…” His gray eyes looked vacant as he pondered the situation, lighting up after a few moments. “I think I know a way to keep them out of our hair.”

“How?”

“Brit, Shane, and Quinn are supposed to be siblings. They can get friendly with the woman and boy. Every female between two and eighty-two swoons when Shane walks by, so he can romance her this summer. If he keeps her occupied, it will keep her attention off us.”

“And what if she and the boy get attached to him? Start to care?”

“Not our problem. Hopefully we’ll all be long gone before the summer is over.”

“Not our problem?” Cameron almost shouted, sitting upright and slamming his hand on the table. He was gratified to see Finley jump. “That boy lost his father to war. I think he’s probably suffered enough loss without our trying to cause him more.” Finley raised his hand, rolling his eyes heavenward.

“All right, all right. Calm down, for crying out loud. It was a bad idea, I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “We’ll think of something else. Something that doesn’t involve a single man.”

“No, we won’t. We’re going to act like normal neighbors if the situation calls for it. And you’re going to stop acting so paranoid.”

“Maybe you need to start acting a little more paranoid, my friend. All it takes is one wrong step and then we’re screwed. Every single one of us.”

“Then we had better be sure to make all the right ones, hadn’t we?”


~~~~~


While the wetsuit kept Laura warm from her shoulders to her ankles, her head, hands, neck, and feet felt frozen after wiping out on the Jet Ski. Playtime in the lake was tradition their first day on the island, even though the highs usually never made it out of the mid-sixties this early in the year. She’d bet the water couldn’t be much more than fifty degrees, and now that darkness had fallen, the air temperature must be hovering right around there, too.

Whatever it was, Laura sat as close to the fire as she dared, dressed in jeans and a heavy sweater, wrapped in a blanket. It felt like she might never warm up, but a bet was a bet. She lost the race, had choked down a hot dog, and then opted for a nice mug of hot cocoa instead of the S'mores her son was wolfing down, one right after another.

“Hey, Mom?”

“Hmm?”

“Think we might have a rematch tomorrow?” Hard as he’d tried to pull the question off with a straight face, by the time he finished asking, Sam was almost rolling on the beach laughing.

“Quite the little comedian, aren’t we?” she said sternly, then had to laugh, too. “And no. I think I’ll have to decline the offer, thanks just the same.”

“You’re turning into a wimp, Mom.”

“You say that like being a wimp is a bad thing.” Sam laughed harder.

“You’re probably going to keep me awake all night with your teeth chattering like that. Don’t your jaws hurt?”

“No. They passed hurting a couple hours ago. Now it’s just pure agony. Excruciating, unbearable pain. I may never be able to chew another hot dog if it doesn’t stop soon.”

“Like that would bother you.”

“You’re right. It wouldn’t. We should try roasting steaks next time. Now that’s something I could get in to.”

“Yeah right,Mom. Like you could actually roast a steak on a stick.”

“I bet it would work. In fact, if I cut them up for shish kebobs and marinate them all day tomorrow, I think they’ll turn out perfect.”

“You want to cook steaks over an open fire tomorrow night?”

“Yes. Yes, I think I do. If you don’t like it, you can have more hot dogs – and I can have your steak for breakfast the next morning.”

“Cold steak is disgusting whether it’s grilled or roasted. You know that, don’t you?”

“Only someone who actually likes hot dogs would think that. Besides, disgusting is in the eye of the beholder. C’mon. We’ve got to get this fire out and get some sleep. Unless you’ve decided you don’t want to sketch the sunrise this year.”

The counselor Sam had gone to for months after Jake died had gotten him into drawing as a way to get the eight-year-old to express his grief. No one had been more surprised than Laura to find that he had a natural talent for the painting and drawing that had become his passion.

Each summer since, Sam had taken to sketching both the first sunrise after they arrived at the island and the last one the morning they left. The past two years he had painted from the drawings, masterpieces Laura proudly hung on the walls at their house in Lansing. There were even a couple of them in the living room here.

“Of course I’m going to,” Sam told her quickly, reaching for the bucket of water and pouring it slowly over the small fire. When it was empty, he walked down to the lake to refill it.


~~~~~


Cameron watched the boy help his mother to her feet then sling an arm around her shoulders as they trudged back up the slight incline to their chalet. As had become his usual custom over the past few weeks, he sat on the deck for a couple of hours before heading to bed. Tonight was no different, except he’d watched the pair at the fire, listening to their teasing banter and found himself smiling. And he truly wished his life had turned out differently.




CHAPTER 2


“Hey, sweetie,” Laura said, gently shaking Sam’s shoulder. He groaned and pulled the comforter over his head. “Sam, I’m going out for a walk. I just wanted to let you know so you wouldn’t worry if you get up before I get back.”

A grunt was all she got for her consideration, and she grinned, patting his back, then heading for the door.

“What time is it?” he asked, his voice muffled by the pillow.

“Seven-thirty.” Another groan came from under the covers. She had heard his alarm go off around five-fifteen, but hadn’t heard him go back to bed. It probably hadn’t been all that long ago.

“Want me to go with you?”

Laura smiled again. Sometimes she couldn’t believe how blessed she’d been to have given birth to this boy.

“Thanks, but I’m trying to work out a problem with my plot. I’m hoping a walk will help clear my head enough so I can start writing this afternoon.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive, hon. Get some more sleep and I’ll see you when I get back.”

“Be careful,” Sam mumbled.

“Always.”

“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too.”

Soft snores filled the air before she reached the hall, and Laura chuckled, grabbing her long white sweater from the back of one of the recliners in the living room. Quietly, she let herself out, locking the French doors and tucking the key in the pocket of her jeans.

“Brr,” she shivered, slipping the sweater on and taking a moment to free her hair. Some mornings this early in the season were perfect. This one almost made it but the breeze off the lake was definitely chilly.

With no particular destination in mind, Laura first wandered down to the water’s edge. It was always pretty awesome to see the faint coastlines of both the upper and lower peninsulas across the vast expanse of water. She loved it here. In fact, if it weren’t quite so isolated, she wouldn’t mind living here year-round but transportation to the mainland was iffy at best during the winter months.

With a sigh, she forced her thoughts to the glaring problem with her newest book.

She hadn’t even realized it until, mulling it over as she lay in bed the night before, the holes in it stood out like flashing neon signs. And that meant she had to figure out how to make it work before she could even consider starting the first draft. Laura was nothing if not methodical about her writing. She had to know where she was starting, where she would finish, and every little detail in between. At least the important details.

And so, determined to sort the problems out, she set off down the beach, the wet sand shifting beneath her sneakers, her thoughts a million miles away.


~~~~~


He watched the boy called Sam bound out of the chalet and down the steps, hurrying to the beach. Glancing to the right, and then to his left, he appeared to be on the verge of panic, probably wondering where his mother had wandered off to.

Cameron noticed her heading out for a walk as he’d carried a cup of coffee out to the deck a couple of hours ago. She seemed like a conscientious parent and had surely let the boy know where she was going. Unless she’d expected to return before he’d woken up. If that had been the plan, she’d miscalculated how late her son would sleep.

Sam followed her footprints to the shore but the waves had long since erased any trace of the direction she’d taken. Now he looked a little scared and Cameron took pity on him.

“Excuse me,” he called, waving his hand at Sam. “If you’re looking for your mother, she was heading south when I came out this morning.”

“Thank you, sir,” Sam said, waving back before he started jogging off in that direction.

Cameron smiled a sad smile. He knew from unfortunate experience that when a child had experienced the loss of one parent, they tended to worry obsessively over the one who remained. And that, he was sure, was what fueled the fear so evident on the boy’s face.

“Where’s the kid going in such a rush?” Finley asked sarcastically, joining him at the table.

“Looking for his mother.”

“I thought we agreed that we wouldn’t initiate contact.”

“Oh for crying out loud, Fin He’s worried. I just pointed him in the right direction.”

“But-”

“No. I don’t care if you like it or not. Regardless of the circumstances, I won’t be party to a child suffering needlessly.”

“Fugitives don’t draw needless attention to themselves.”

Cameron rolled his eyes and sighed as Nolan Campbell strolled up the few steps to the deck.

With brown hair that hung past his shoulders, a perpetual days growth of whiskers, and an always-ready grin, Nolan was the polar opposite of Finley, with his short cropped, prematurely gray buzz cut, smoothly shaven face, and ever present scowl.

He supposed he, himself, fell about dead center between them, his dark blond hair not short by any stretch, but not particularly long either. Like Finley, he shaved daily and, like Nolan, smiled often.

Or at least he used to.

“Playing the drama queen again, Finley?” Nolan drawled joining them at the table, and taking a swig of Coke, his beverage of choice no matter what time of day it was.

“Just being cautious, unlike some people,” Finley snapped, crossing his arms over his chest like a petulant child. “Do any of you take this situation seriously? If we’re caught, we can kiss our butts good-bye. Do any of you get that?”

“I think we all get it. In fact, I believe that’s the sole reason we’re stuck on this island in the middle of nowhere with your ugly mug,” Nolan said. He glanced at Cameron, who was struggling to hide a smile. “What’s got him so bent out of shape on such a beautiful morning?”

“I had the nerve to talk to the boy next door.”

“Oh no!” Nolan gasped, clutching a hand to his chest, eyes wide. “You do realize that you just signed our death warrants, don’t you?” Cameron laughed when Finley glared at them, then got up and strode inside, slamming the French door behind him.

“You do enjoy goading him, don’t you?”

“It’s the highlight of my life,” Nolan said, chuckling. After another long swallow of soda, he asked, “How’s the tyrant this morning?”

“I looked in on him a while ago. He was still sleeping.”

“Or pretending to.”

“Or pretending to,” Cameron agreed, closing his eyes for a moment. “I don’t know what we should do about him. He doesn’t want to be here and he doesn’t want anyone bothering him.”

“I guess that’s just too bad, isn’t it? I’ll be bothering him in just a bit. He hasn’t managed to get hold of a gun since I saw him last night, has he?” Cameron snickered.

“At this point, I have no doubt he’d shoot us all, so I don't leave them lying around where he can get to one. Don’t worry, Nolan, you’re safe from that fate. Today anyway.”


~~~~~


Feeling dizzy and sick to her stomach, Laura had to stop again. Not that the nausea was any better or worse than it had been since she’d tripped over that blasted piece of driftwood more than an hour ago.

She wasn’t sure if her ankle was broken or sprained. All she knew was that it was badly swollen and incredibly painful. And every time she tried to move, she broke out in a cold sweat and wanted to throw up. But she couldn’t just stay here on the beach. Sam would be waking up soon, and she’d already been gone too long.

Hopping hadn’t worked at all. The first time she’d tried, she nearly fainted, and so she had been crawling a few feet, then resting for what seemed like forever, making precious little progress. At this rate, she would get back to the chalet in about a week. All she wanted to do was collapse and have a good cry, but that wouldn’t do anyone any good, least of all her.

Taking a deep breath, she braced herself to inch a little closer toward home.

“Mom!” The sound of Sam’s frantic voice in the distance had never been so welcome. “Mom! Oh my God, what happened?”

“I’m okay,” she called out. “It’s just my ankle. Slow down before you hurt yours.” Yeah don’t do that, she thought wryly. We’d really be in trouble then.

“Let me see it,” he demanded, dropping down beside her, his breath ragged.

Gingerly she tugged her pant leg up. It didn’t move far, thanks to the swelling.

“Oh, that looks bad,” Sam whispered, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “So do you, Mom. Are you okay? Besides the ankle?”

“I’m fine, sweetie. It just hurts,” she lied. The pain was breathtakingly bad.

“Okay, wait here. I’ll be right back,” he told her, dashing off into the woods. Laura laughed a shaky laugh.

“Wait here? Yeah, I can pretty much guarantee I won’t be going anywhere,” she muttered, casting a hateful look at the offending ankle.

In a few minutes, he was back with hunks of bark and a long stick. He dropped them beside her, peeled off his tee shirt, and pulled a pocketknife from his jeans.

“What are you doing?” Laura demanded, staring at him as though he’d lost his mind. “You’re going to freeze.”

“It was sixty degrees when I left. I’m not going to freeze.”

He cut the shirt into jagged strips, and then grabbed a couple of the larger pieces of bark.

“What are you doing?” she repeated.

“We need to immobilize your ankle as much as we can or we’ll never get back. Just sit still. This might hurt a little.”

“Well that’ll be a pleasant change of pace,” she said optimistically, and Sam grinned.

Laura bit her lip until she was afraid it would bleed as her son tied the bark around her ankle. It hurt more than a little, but she’d never let him know it. Not if she could help it anyway.

“There. That’s the best I can do.”

“Where did you learn to make a brace anyway?”

“Jeez, Mom, don’t you pay attention to TV and movies?”

“I guess not.”

“All right, let’s get you up. You can use the stick for a cane.” He pulled her gently to her feet, and a wave of dizziness made her sway. “Mom!”

“I’m okay. Just give me a second.” She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”

Sam wrapped both arms around Laura’s waist, trying to bear as much of her weight as he could, and she took the first painful step in what seemed like an endless journey.

“How far do you think we are from the house?”

“About a mile,” Sam said reluctantly.

“Gee, won’t this be fun?”


~~~~~


“Well, he isn’t in a better mood today,” Nolan muttered, rejoining Cameron on the deck. “I did get him to eat a little but it was like pulling teeth. I think I’d rather deal with an ornery bear.”

“Do you think he’ll ever-”

“Help! Can you help us please?”

“Oh dear God,” Cameron gasped, whipping his head around to see Sam almost dragging his mother across the sand. She hung limply from his arms and it looked like the boy was quickly losing his hold on her.

Cameron knocked his chair over when he leaped up, and then he was running as fast as his feet would carry him. He heard Nolan yell at someone to get his bag, then footsteps pounding down the steps behind him, but he didn’t look back to see who it was.

“Here, I’ve got her,” Cameron told Sam, who was breathing so hard it almost sounded like he was sobbing. He relinquished the death grip he had on his mother as Cameron swung her up into his arms and hurried toward the deck.

“What happened?” Nolan asked, grabbing her wrist and trying to find her pulse. No easy task as he jogged alongside them.

“She said she fell over some driftwood. Didn’t know if she broke her ankle or sprained it. I tried to brace it, but I don’t think it helped much. She fainted a few minutes ago.” Cameron could hear the terror in his voice as he gently laid the woman on the chaise lounge.

“You did a good job with what you had available,” Nolan assured him, quickly removing the makeshift brace and trying to look at the ankle. “She’s going to need an x-ray, Cam. With the swelling and bruising, I can't even guess what’s wrong with it. I do know I have to cut this pant leg away. It’s cutting the circulation off. I need my bag!”

“Is she going to be okay?” Sam whispered. Cameron wrapped an arm around his shoulders in an attempt to comfort him.

“She’s going to be just fine,” Nolan said, taking the black bag Finley thrust at him. “What’s her name?”

“Laura.”

“Laura? Laura, can you hear me?” He waved a vial under her nose, causing her to choke a little. “Laura?”

“Y – yes?”

“I’m going to cut your jeans a little so we can release some of the pressure on your ankle. Hold very still please.”

Cameron watched her wince as Nolan worked a pair of scissors between her ankle and the fabric and, though it didn’t seem possible, her already chalky skin paled more. But she didn’t make any noise, just glanced at her son and gave him what she probably thought was a reassuring smile. It didn’t help. He could feel the boy was still trembling.

“We’re going to have to get you down to the boat so we can get you to the mainland for an x-ray,” Nolan explained, checking her pulse again.

“My jeep is parked at one of the piers in Mackinaw City.”

“But the hospital is in St. Ignace,” Finley said quietly, surprising Cameron. “I’ve got a vehicle at the pier there. And since you can’t drive, we might as well just head there. Someone want to carry her to the boat? We’ll take mine. It’s faster.”

“I’ll carry her down,” Cameron said quickly, brushing Nolan aside.

“But – my purse. My insurance card…”

“I’ll get it, Mom. I’ll be right back.”

“Get a shirt, Sam,” she called after him. Cameron chuckled. Once a mother, always a mother.

“Finley, can you grab a couple of pillows?” Nolan asked, tossing his things back in the bag. “We need to get that foot up.”

“Your color is better,” Cameron told her as he carried her down to the dock. “I’m glad, because your son was pretty worried.”

“I can imagine,” Laura murmured. “I’m really sorry to cause you all this trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. Don’t worry about it.” Her laugh was shaky.

“Right. No trouble. Uh-huh.”

“Really, my only plans this morning were to try and read a book that I haven’t been able to work up an interest in anyway, so you’re not dragging me away from anything important. I’m just glad we were here and able to help.” His laugh was a hair on the shaky side, too. “I’m especially glad that Nolan is a doctor and knows what to do.”

“I’m still sorry. If I’d been paying more attention…” Her voice trailed off.

“Accidents are called accidents for a reason.” Most of them anyway. Some were premeditated, and carefully planned, as he well knew. “Unless you do this kind of thing for fun, of course.”

“Um- Fun? Let me think about that for a second.” She appeared to consider his words thoughtfully, then slowly shook her head. “Nope. Zero fun.”

Cameron burst out laughing. Many people in her situation would have trouble being pleasant, yet she seemed to find a little humor in it.

“It occurs to me that I don’t even know your name,” she said, as they stood on the dock waiting for the others.

“Cameron Rafferty at your service, ma’am.”

“I’m Laura Keane.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Keane.”

“Same here, Mr. Rafferty.” She smiled at him, and Cameron felt his breath catch. “Mr. Rafferty-”

“Please. It’s Cameron, or even Cam, if you prefer.”

“Cameron, then. I know it’s got to feel like I weigh about five hundred pounds by now. I think I’ll be okay if you put me down.”

“You’re fine. They’ll be here in a minute or two.” She didn’t weigh enough to be a bother. “See. Here comes Sam, and there’s Nolan and Finley not far behind him.”

Cameron passed Laura off to Finley after he jumped into the boat. For a man who wanted nothing to do with their neighbors the day before, he was surprisingly gentle as he placed Laura on the longest seat. From resenting their very presence, to this kindly solicitousness, it was really quite annoying.

“Let’s get that foot up, Laura.” Nolan handed her a Coke. “Drink some of this. You could use the sugar.” He turned and handed one to Sam. “You could, too. Best medicine in the world,” he said with a grin. “Go ahead and sit up front with Fin. We’ll stay back here with your mom. Cam, we didn’t bring enough pillows. You sit there. I’ll take her feet.”

Laura blushed as they made her, and themselves, as comfortable as possible. Cameron turned sideways in the corner so she could recline against his chest, and Nolan stacked the pillows on his lap, carefully placing her legs on top.

“Fin, I think we need to slow it down a bit. The water’s pretty choppy today.” Nolan had to shout to be heard over the motor and wind less than a minute into their trip. Cameron, too, had noticed that whatever color Laura had gotten back, quickly disappeared as the boat bucked and rocked over the whitecaps. “Have you ever used crutches before, Laura?”

“Crutches?” She looked a bit confused. “No.”

“There’s a secret to using them that most people aren’t aware of,” Nolan said with a cheerful smile, trying to take her mind off the pain, Cameron was sure.

“A secret?”

“Yes. Most people support their weight with their underarms, which makes their shoulders and back hurt more than they have to. Now trust me on this, you’ll be using them for at least two weeks, depending on whether the ankle is broken or sprained. If you use them like that, you’ll be sorry.”

“So what other way is there to use them?”

“You keep your elbows stiff when you’re walking. That way you use your arm strength, in addition to your hands and shoulders. It distributes the stress more evenly.”

“Oh. That’s a good idea,” Laura agreed, keeping up a brave front. But Cameron could tell by the sound of her voice that the pain was worse again. Bouncing over some good-sized waves couldn’t be helping at all.

“The doctor at the hospital is going to tell you to elevate your leg for most of the day for up to a week. It’s important that you follow those instructions. Once the swelling goes down, I’ll come over and show you some exercises to help things heal up in there.”

On and on the distractions went, until they were piling in the big SUV Finley had rented. And finally it was just Finley, Sam, and Cameron in the waiting room. Nolan had insisted on accompanying Laura, which seemed to make both her and her son feel better. Cameron was dismayed to find that he wasn’t relieved. He would have liked to have gone back with her too. Just to make sure everything was all right.

“Do you think she’s going to be okay?” Sam asked, stopping his relentless pacing long enough to look at Cameron.

“Of course she is.”

“She looked really sick.”

“Pain can do that to anyone, Sam,” Finley assured him, his voice gentle. “Once she’s back home and not being jostled around all over the place, she’ll be fine.”

“I hope so. My- My dad died four years ago. She’s all I have.” Cameron wanted to hug the kid. He’d watched as Sam tried to act so grown up the day before, but this morning he was just a boy afraid of losing his mother.

“She’ll be just fine,” he promised. “You’ll have to help her for a while though. Your mom strikes me as a pretty stubborn lady, so you’ll have to make sure she doesn’t overdo things.” Sam chuckled.

“Stubborn? That’s for sure. But I’ll see to it that she rests. She won’t be able to do anything but write.”

“Your mom writes?” Cameron asked, surprised.

“Yes. Ever heard of Anna Laura Jacobs?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“Well, I guess you wouldn’t. She writes mystery romances. Most guys don’t read that stuff. But she’s good. She’s won a bunch of awards.”

“I’m impressed.” Cameron watched as Sam got quiet, his gaze going back down the hall. When he looked back, he said,

“They’re taking a long time with her, aren’t they?”

So much for a distraction. He was back to pacing, an occasional growl coming from his stomach. Cameron guessed he hadn’t had time for breakfast. Poor kid.


Chapter 3


Laura struggled into a pair of cuffed navy shorts and a white tee shirt before snatching her crutches from where they leaned against the wall. Less than twenty-four hours and she already hated them. Passionately. Of course, she’d tested Nolan’s advice, trying them out both ways, and he’d been completely right. Her shoulders already ached so much she couldn’t imagine what they would have felt like without his instruction. She didn’t even want to think about how much she’d be hurting in a few days. And thanks to the ugly ‘boot’ she’d be wearing for the next six weeks, she would be using them for a couple of weeks – at least – because the bone just above her ankle was quite nicely fractured.

It could have been worse. At least that’s what the doctor had told her. If she’d broken the ankle itself, her recovery time would have been months rather than weeks.

She made her way to the bathroom as quietly as possible. Sam had to be up early most days, nine months a year, so he wasn’t all that fond of dragging himself out of bed before eight during vacation, and nine or ten was more in keeping with his ‘perfect’ summer plans. But she wasn’t all that steady on the crutches yet, and unless she got that way in a hurry, his plans might well be changed.

After taking care of her regular morning routine and tying her hair back with a navy scarf, Laura made her way to the kitchen, congratulating herself on her ability to produce a child who could, apparently, sleep through just about anything.

While making a pot of coffee, she realized that getting herself settled wasn’t going to be as easy as it would have been yesterday. Easy if she hadn’t fractured her leg, spent a good part of the day at the hospital, and then sleeping the rest of it away in a drug-induced stupor.

In fact, according to Sam, she had fallen asleep during the trip back to the island. She didn’t remember a whole lot after the shot she’d gotten in the emergency room, but from what her son said, their neighbor had had to carry her to her bed.

Poor guy, she thought sympathetically, as she hobbled back to her bedroom for a beach tote. Whatever plans Cameron Rafferty might have had the day before had been well and truly disrupted because of her accident. But he and his friends had been very good sports about it.

Sighing, she filled the bag with her notes and laptop, wrapped the straps around the handle of one of the crutches, and headed back to the kitchen, priding herself on her self-sufficiency.

Too bad it didn’t help her absentmindedness, because she had to make another trip to get a pillow to prop her foot on.

Slamming it down on one of the kitchen chairs, she emptied the tote and carried it to the counter.

“Is there any better aroma than hazelnut coffee first thing in the morning?” she wondered aloud, sighing as the coffeemaker performed its magic.

She pulled a large mug that proclaimed, “World’s Greatest Mom,” from the cupboard and stuffed it in a gallon size food storage bag, along with a spoon and smaller baggies filled with sugar and powdered creamer. Then, after pondering it for a full three seconds, she tossed a package of Lorna Doone cookies in with the rest, before filling an insulated carafe to the brim with coffee.


~~~~~


“She could call the police you know,” Finley drawled, sitting in the recliner on the other side of the solid oak occasional table. Cameron chuckled.

“She could. But it’s interesting to watch her. She’s a very resourceful woman.”

“Stubborn, too, I expect.”


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