All In - Queensbay 7 - Lydia & Lance's Story

 

Hi Queensbay fans! 

It's almost here - Book 7 of the Queensbay series, featuring Lydia (you met her as Colleen's friend in Book 6) and Lance will be out in late June and I have a preview for you!

Lydia's an artist who's been roped into taking care of her little brother. She'd much rather be playing with clay than babysitting, but when trouble strikes she finds she's all her brother has.

Lance is ex-Army who takes a PI job on the side. He's not supposed to get close to his target, but there's something about Lydia that tugs at him. And when her world crashes down around her, he can't help but be there for her - whether she wants him to be on not.

If you need to catch up on the Queensbay series, you can grab books 1-4 here, or  Book 5 -  Tory and Colby's story here or Book 6 , Jake and Colleen's story here.

 

All In - Queensbay Book 7 - Lydia & Lance

Chapter 1

Feeling slightly giddy at the size of the check that had been handed to her, Lydia Snow stepped out onto the sidewalk, checked her watch and decided that one, she was starving, and two, she deserved to treat herself to a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant at the cute little café across the street from the Nattick Art Gallery.

Shivering just a bit as she stepped out onto the street, she looked up at the sky. The sun, which had been out all day, throwing heat and humidity summer’s last showing, had disappeared behind a scrim of sickly yellow clouds.

Now, the temperature had dropped, and the wind, which had been nonexistent earlier, was a wild breeze, swirling around fallen leaves in a devil’s dance along the sidewalk in front of the quaint brick and clapboard shopfronts.  The air was cool and wet as if it were a soaked-through blanket.

A storm was on its way, maybe a big one, but she paused, considering, then decided she had plenty of time for that coffee and croissant before she headed out along the coast, back to Queensbay and her dinner plans with friends. She crossed the street, humming, and pushed open the door to the café, inhaling deeply at the scent of freshly roasted coffee and buttery baked goods. Her stomach growled just a little, reminding her that she’d been remiss and not eaten since her hurried cup of coffee this morning.

 But she’d had good reason, she thought as she wandered up to the glass display case and took in the bounty of carbs that tempted her.  The owner of the Nattick Art Gallery had called personally to congratulate her on her pieces selling out so quickly and to ask if she had any more available.  It had taken a moment for Lydia to remember what she had consigned to the shop - a set of candlesticks and several serving bowls, all in a cerulean blue glaze she’d developed and quickly become entranced with.

Believing it best to strike while the iron was hot, she had happily told him she did have a few more pieces for him and offered to drive them over that day, the time away from her work all the sweeter because he promised to have her commission check ready for her.

Of course, it had taken her a bit longer to box up the new pieces and make herself presentable than expected, and it was late afternoon by the time she made it over to the gallery.

Then there had been the chit chat, the unwrapping and admiring of the new pieces, and then the almost ceremonial writing out of the commission check. All in all, a very profitable afternoon, especially since the owner, a charming older gentleman with salt and pepper hair, nattily dressed in a tweed jacket and bow tie had commissioned her to create a set of dinner plates for one of his regular customers. Of course, there had been the artfully staged pictures for both their social media pages and the promises to tag each other.  They had air-kissed and said their good-byes.

Now, in the peace of the nearly empty café, as she bit into her chocolatey croissant and took a self-congratulatory sip of her cappuccino, she pulled out her phone and turned her attention to the alerts, messages, phone calls and texts she had ignored while doing business. Life had gone on at a gallop while she’d been in the galley.

 She turned her attention to the weather service alerts first and saw with little surprise that it predicted terrible weather. A glance at the sky could have told her that. Still, this storm had a name, Eileen, and came with numerous flash flood warnings.  

Lydia sighed in annoyance. She knew she couldn’t control the weather, but if Eileen messed wither her plans for this evening, then she was going to be seriously upset.

There were several texts from her dad, asking her when she would be home, each one testier than the next, and then a few from Josh, asking the same, a mix of emojis and misspelled words.  She ignored the ones from her dad, and emojied something back to Josh, hoping he understood. It was her night off from babysitting, and dinner was strictly her dad’s responsibility.   

There was one from her old friend Kerm, a reporter, who probably wanted to congratulate her on her recent write up in the local magazine. She smiled, sent a thumbs up, and promised she’d check in later.

And then there were a series of texts from him. She wondered when that guy would ever get the message. It had been months since she’d left Savannah and used the opportunity to ghost him. Still, though, he wouldn’t leave well enough alone. It was the first time she’d heard from him in an awhile, and his tone was less than friendly.

Must talk.

I mean it.

Don’t ignore me, bitch.

Ok, so the last one rattled her, and she pressed delete. She did not need that negative energy hovering around her, not when she was ready to go out and celebrate with her friends.

            The waitress, an older, comfortable-looking woman came over, a towel slung over her shoulder.

 “Storm’s coming up fast.”

“What?” Lydia turned her attention toward the woman, who was bussing a nearby table.

“Storm clouds. We’re getting clobbered both sides. From the water and then up the coast, cause of that tropical storm. First of the season. Let’s hope it doesn’t become a hurricane.”

“Right.” The storm. Lydia looked outside the big plate glass windows onto the quiet street. The sky had darkened, the scrim of sickly yellowish clouds replaced by angry gunmetal gray billows that had coalesced into a moving, writhing mass blown forward on wind so strong that the silvered-green underbellies of the leaves were showing.  

It was dark, too dark for late afternoon, an unnatural, heebie-jeebies inducing dark.

Raindrops, big, fat ones, just a few landed against the window, and she could see that that the street lamps were turning on one by one, their sensors tricked by the dark sky into thinking it was much later than it was.

“Yup, Eileen’s worse than they thought and coming in a whole lot faster. Town’s battening down the hatches. The road will be flooding too.” The waitress added that for good measure, with a sort of cheerfulness that said she was native New Englander and used to Mother Nature throwing hell at her.  

Still, the waitress was determinedly cleaning the table right next to Lydia. Her coffee had grown cold, and the croissant was a flaky, half-eaten mess. She looked up and saw that the other patrons were gone, except for a mother with a small toddler, who was hastily bundling the kid into her raincoat.

The waitress set a chair upside down on a table.

Ok, so Lydia could take a hint. It was only a half-hour drive between Nattick and Queensbay, then maybe another ten minutes to her father’s house outside of town. She didn’t know how far away the waitress lived, but her meaning was clear.

Time to get the heck out of Dodge.

 Lydia thought for a moment about stiffing her on the tip, but sighed, realizing she was just upset that the stupid storm might wreck her plans for the evening. She had finally managed to finagle her father into giving her the night off from watching Josh, and she did not want to be stuck at home eating mac and cheese and chicken fingers when she could be out with her friends.

She watched as the mother and the toddler, decked out in rain boots and matching raincoat, a bright ladybug print, made their way out, the toddler still clutching the remains of her cookie. It was time to get out of Nattick. She’d get home, deal with the men in her life and then she’d go and bitch about them with her friends.   

She took a few more deep breaths, left a generous tip on the table, and pushed out, ready to go.

She stepped onto the sidewalk and was hit by a blast of wind. Something whipped past her, a cluster of leaves that caught in her long blonde ponytail and then just as quickly was ripped away. She crossed the street, over to the Mercedes roadster, her father’s pride and joy.

She’d borrowed it because she’d been annoyed that he’d sprung another business trip, asking her to stay just another week or two longer. She’d hadn’t said yes outright but decided that she’d get some of her passive-aggressive anger out by taking his favorite toy out for a joy ride.  It seemed a perfectly reasonable trade-off at the time, but looking up at the sky, she wished she’d driven her car, a sturdy, reliable Jeep.

 A large, cold drop of rain slid down her neck. She wiped it away and thought about her new suede boots and hurriedly folded herself into the car.

At the moment it took to get her settled, the rain began in earnest, a pelting, thick curtain of water. She sighed, listened as the engine turned over, and began to hum with a gentle purr. A crack of something that might have been thunder and a sudden gust of wind made her jump in her seat.

She took a deep breath, laughed at herself. It was just a storm, nothing to be rattled by. Besides, she had her girls’ night out, and nothing, not even the evil Eileen, could get in the way of that.

 

 

Chapter 2

            Lance Morgan watched the shiny roadster start-up and, with a lurch, slip out of the parking spot and head down the street. He waited until it was a fair distance ahead, and then pulled his SUV out of the parking spot and followed it out of town.

            The rain, which had started with a few massive splatters, was already coming down in a steady beat, the storm moving in hard and fast.  Rain, along with an unusually high tide and the strong wind, would push the seawater up along the beaches, causing flooding along the low-lying coast road.  He didn’t worry that his car could handle it, but he thought it was a mistake Lydia Snow was taking that sweet little sportscar along the coast road. Even a medium-size puddle would spell disaster for a car like that.

            Still, his job wasn’t to have opinions, only to watch and observe. So far, it had been a tedious job. Good thing the client wasn’t picky about the inflated hourly rate he’d quoted. It was work he didn’t want to do, but the referral had come in from an old Army buddy, and he’d felt obligated to take it, even though the client was turning into a major pain in the ass.

            Lance sighed, turned up the volume on the police scanner he kept in his car. A few days in and he hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. The old man had stayed holed up in the house. The woman, the pretty blonde, spent most of her time taking care of the little kid.  To the playground, to ice cream, shopping.

Today, though, she’d departed from routine. He’d watched her, obviously dolled up, head out in the shiny little sports car. She figured she might be meeting someone, a boyfriend, or a lover, and that this might be what the client was looking for. Usually, his clients told him what to look for – infidelity, a faked injury, obvious financial missteps. But this client had been cagey, saying he only wanted to know what the man and the woman were doing. Which, as Lance had found out, was a whole lot of nothing.  Until today.

            She’d driven with the top down, a scarf around her long blond hair, a leisurely ride along the coast to Nattick, where she’d parked and gone into a little crafty type shop with a box. She’d stayed there for a while, and then oblivious to the fact there was a major storm coming – which everyone in their right mind knew was going to be a doozy -  had decided to stick around and have a  coffee – the expensive kind – as well as some sort of pastry. Lance sighed. He’d had a protein bar and an energy drink and was looking forward to some real food as soon as he ascertained that the woman wasn’t doing anything interesting.

His windshield wipers were working furiously, and as he turned onto Kirby Road and he slowed a bit, hanging well back from the caravan of cars ahead. First in line was a slow-moving pickup truck, then the little roadster and another big SUV, following too close behind her. He was confident that she wouldn’t notice him, but he kept his distance.

He sighed with frustration. The coast road was a stupid choice. The tide, which was just reaching its peak and the onshore winds, plus the rain, combined to create large sheet-like puddles, the type that separated rubber tires from the road and meant a loss of control for the nervous or inexperienced driver.

It was like a slow-going parade, near white knuckle driving. He glanced out the side window. Despite the growing darkness, he could catch a glimpse of the marsh, and the beach, and then the water, the wind whipping up lashing waves and angry whitecaps. The wind was fierce, shuddering even his heavy car. He imagined the little sportscar was having a harder time of it.

A branch, freshly snapped off, flew right in front of him. He maneuvered just a bit to avoid it, plowed through a puddle and felt, for a fraction of a second, the tires almost lose contact with the road. But he kept his calm, got the car back on the road, and proceeded on. It would be a beautiful night to be inside, out of the rain and the wind, but the money had been too good to turn down on a job like this, a simple watch and observe. So, he kept his speed slow, and his eye on the Mercedes ahead of him.

 

 

Chapter 3

The storm was already worse than she’d bargained for. And the car, a sleek, road-hugging beast on dry, winding country roads, was proving difficult to manage in the battering wind and bruising rain. Puddles were forming, great big ones, along Kirby Road, which in her mind, was the most direct way home. Unfortunately, it also hugged the coast and was prone to flooding on sunny days with high tides. In the rain and wind, it was downright treacherous. It didn’t help that she was stuck behind an old pickup truck that was crawling along as if the storm was of no concern.

She was jittery, a combination of caffeine and nerves, making her heart flutter. She wished she had brought the Jeep, leaking roof be damned. It didn’t help that her phone kept dinging with texts, all from her father, asking when she would be home. She was pissed that he couldn’t handle opening a box, boiling water and stirring in orange powder, and feeding his son.

She really wanted to get back to Queensbay, to be able to go out tonight, with her girls, throw back a drink or two, and eat some greasy bar food. She needed a night off from babysitter duty. Sure, she loved her little brother – well half-brother – but being on 24-7 was beginning to get to her. Thankfully he started school soon – kindergarten, and if all went well, she would tell her dad that she’d done her duty and would be heading back to her real life.

She would miss the town – she’d grown to love the little town nestled on the shore of Long Island Sound and the friends she’d made. But her life, her job, her career, were all somewhere else, and she’d put everything on pause to help her dad for long enough. And worse, he didn’t seem particularly grateful for what she’d done. He’d been withdrawn and snappish when he was around and downright stealthy about where he was when he wasn’t home.

She sighed, knowing it wasn’t her concern. Her dad was a grown man. She did feel a twinge of guilt about Josh. Still no word from his mother about when she’d be home, but Lydia reminded herself that her father’s marriage was none of her business. God, she needed that drink.  If only the guy ahead of her would hurry it up.

The Mercedes skidded, hydroplaned just a little as she hit the bottom of an incline where there was a large pool of water. Lydia kept her hands clenched around the wheel, fought the panic, and managed to wrench control of the car back onto the relatively dry road.

She checked the odometer. Hell, she was crawling along at twenty miles an hour. She’d never make it to Quent’s Pub in time for the plate of loaded potato skins with her friends. And now more than ever, she was feeling the need for them, for a place where she could just relax and be herself.

She passed the sign that told her she was five miles out from Queensbay. The truck ahead of her seemed in no rush, and they headed up yet another hill. The Mercedes’ engine grumbled beneath her as if just asking to be able to go flat out and run. Yup, she shouldn’t have taken the Jeep. Anything but this high-strung lady.

Lightning cracked, and Lydia shuddered. “Potato skins with bacon, potato skins with sour cream and chives,” she chanted to herself while guiding the sporty little sedan behind the truck. 

Dark, real dark was now rolling in, not just the dense cloud cover. Sheets of water pooled on the road, and she skidded just a bit as she plowed through a puddle. The car could handle it, but she slowed, just to make sure.

The truck crested the road and pulled away from her as if the driver had suddenly woken up and realized he was in the middle of a storm. Lydia, though tempted to gun it, kept going slowly, maneuvering carefully down the hill, guessing that there was probably a big puddle toward the bottom.  The world had become gray around her, a wall of clouds, fog, and rain.  Thunder rumbled, so close, she could feel the vibration of the air through the car.

She thought a storm named Eileen shouldn’t be such a bitch. Storms were the kind of thing that could be weathered in a stylish slicker and a good pair of rubber boots.  Another gust of wind made the car shimmy. Ok, so it seemed like Eileen wasn’t joking.

Behind her, a car had sneaked up, the bright headlights filling the cabin of the vehicle. She glanced in the mirror, then over her shoulder, and saw a big black SUV, with someone, an indistinct someone, diving. There was a heavy sounding horn, and the car swerved behind her as if seeing if there was a way around her but foiled by the weather and the sight of the truck ahead of her.

Lydia cursed under her breath. Just what did this lady think she was doing? Because, of course, it had to be the soccer mom, right, they all drove these things piling their two point five kids into these ginormous vehicles to ferry their kids around to their hyper-scheduled enrichment activities. You couldn’t call it just art class, or just soccer. Now it was all about becoming enriched. Except to Lydia, the kids never seem very enriched, just tired and bored.

Lydia held up a hand, made a waving gesture trying to get the lunatic to go around her. The vehicle behind her swerved, and Lydia swerved too, then wrestled the car back into the lane. The soccer mom was even closer now, right up on her tail.

She slowed, trying to decide what to do, and with a roar and a blare of the horn, the giant car pulled out and around her, sending a sheet of water over the roadster as it plowed through a small lake of rain and saltwater.

The SUV plowed on ahead, disappearing around the curve of the bend, while Lydia fought the slow slide of the Mercedes over the water as its tires met water and decided to hydroplane for real this time. The car turned as if in slow motion, a 360 degree turn while she wrestled with the wheel and tried to avoid slamming on the breaks.

Finally, she was out of the water and on the soft sand that edged the road. She hit something, with a jolt, hard, and the car came to a stop with a finality that had her whiplashed in her seat. The Mercedes listed, slightly, and she felt the unevenness. Had a tire popped? Or was it worse, was she teetering on the edge of a ditch, the Mercedes poised to slide into the swampy marsh that would suck her slowly down into the muck?

Lydia took a deep breath. Except for her neck, she felt ok, and even that pain was fading, but she was in much better shape than the car, since it seemed to be making an odd rasping sound and there was steam coming out of the hood.

Just great, she thought. She was all dressed up, literally, with someplace to go, and now she was stuck. What would her dad say? She made it all through her teen years without wrecking a car, and now she’d done it to one of his pride and joys, a favorite toy. This was going to take some explaining.

 

 

Chapter 4

Lance took a turn, skidded a little, and then straightened the car. Slow and steady was the way to handle this. He crested another hill, then started down, breaking gently as he took in the scene below.  Off to the side of the road, in a pool of water, was the fancy roadster, at a crazy angle, and steam appeared to be coming out of its hood. 

He slowly drove down the hill, thinking about what he should do. He should just drive on, maybe call the police. The car didn’t look too damaged, and she couldn’t be hurt. There was no way he should stop and help and expose himself.

Except. He slowed to a stop just behind the stuck car. He couldn’t just drive by and let someone else handle this. What if she was hurt?  He’d was on the scene, and it would take too long for anyone else to meet them. He put the car in park, took a moment to reach for the flashlight and emergency hammer he kept in the glove box and prepared to head out into the rain.  

 

Lydia looked up. A car, a big one had pulled up beside her, the headlights on, the bright disorienting light pouring into her darkened car.  She tensed, watching. Was it the soccer mom again? No, it couldn’t be. But still, she was all alone, on the side of the road, and a small trickle of panic began to seep in. This was the stuff of horror movies, wasn’t it?

Maybe there was a crazy person out there who ran people off the road in the middle of the storm and murdered them. Deep breath, she told herself.  She’d been watching too many suspense movies. She needed to stick to Rom-Coms, get away from any disturbing scenarios that would never happen in real life, right?

She grabbed for her phone, and her finger hung over the screen. Call 9-1-1? But there was no way the police could get in here in enough time.

Finally, she saw the door open, and a light popped on inside the SUV, illuminating a figure. Ok, definitely not a soccer mom. Nope, this was a guy, a big one, judging by the broad shoulders and the height as the figure got out of the car. Headlights illuminated the figure, and it started toward her, a slow, measured stride.

Was there something in its hand?

A gun? A knife?

Suddenly, she felt the sharp prick of panic grow in her stomach and rush throughout her body. She was all alone, trapped in a tiny little car that wasn’t going anywhere. She was too far away to call for help.

She swallowed, told herself to think. She wouldn’t go down without a fight. She pulled her pocketbook and rummaged through it until she found what she was looking for. A gift from her dad. For protection. He’d never said for what, but this sure seemed like a good time to use it.  The panic receded, replaced by adrenaline. Hell, yeah, she was going to get this sucker.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

A light showed right in her face, a flashlight like he was trying to disorient her.

There was a knock on the window, and the voice, disembodied, muffled by wind and glass, reached her.

“Do you need help? Are you ok?” His voice was clear, deep, authoritative.

She clutched the little can of pepper spray tight in her hand, her mind trying to focus, trying to think of the best way she could get out of this.

“I’m fine.” She shouted back. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him.  

“Police are on their way!” she added. “Nothing to worry about, thanks for stopping but you can go now.”

Maybe the lie would deter him, let him know she didn’t need his help, and he could go on his way, get back to his couch and his football game, or whatever sport was on this time of a year.

 But only a jerk would leave someone stranded on the side of the road in the storm. So, this was either someone who wanted to help or a creep.

The flashlight turned as the man swung his body to look up at the front of the car. And it was definitely a man, a big one, and the glimpse of his face, highlighted by the beam of the flashlight, gave her a quick impression of someone clean-shaven, with solid features. Close to her age. Nothing sinister at first glance. Still, it didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous.

The phone had slipped out of her sweaty hand and onto the floor of the car. She could see the glow but couldn’t quite find it, not with one hand grasping madly for it. Seeing that the guy was still near the front of the car, probably taking in the damage to the front tire and the grill, she decided to risk a quick dive down to retrieve her phone.
            She scooped it up, still slippery in her shaking, sweaty hands. Her battery was dangerously low, but she plopped it on the seat next to her and looked around.

 “Where is he, where did he go?” She knew her voice was panicked, flustered.

Suddenly he was there again.

“Ma’am, are you ok, are you hurt?” The man was outside of her window, his voice loud, yet strangely distorted through the glass and the sound of the wind and rain outside.

“Ma’am, if you’re hurt, I have emergency care training. Please let me help you.”

She could see his hand disappear and heard as he pulled on the handle, tried to open it, but the lock held. She flashed a look at him and then back at her phone, which was dark. She stabbed at it, and nothing happened, realized that her battery must have died.

“Ma’am, I am just trying to help you. I’m a trained first responder. Did you hit your head? Can you please open the door so that I can assess your condition?”

He was pulling on the door again, more insistently. Suddenly she felt the overpowering urge to run, to be out of the car. A plan flashed into her mind, a wild, desperate gamble of an idea. She knew what she needed to do. She didn’t think anymore, just acted.

She unlocked the door, then quickly reached the for the latch and pushed it open, hard, swinging her body up and out.  She was facing the man and held her arm out, the one that held the pepper spray. She hit the button hard, heard the hiss, felt something cold and misty waft toward her, and then there was a crazy, burning sensation in her eyes. Oh, crap, oh hell, what had she done?

 To Be Continued - Stay tuned for the official release date, coming June 2020!

 And of course, since it wouldn't be Friday without some fun, it's time to enter the Beach Readers Giveaway - a cool 'So Many Books, So Little Time' insulated tumbler - perfect for keeping coffee hot or cold and a coffee gift card!

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

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