Order of Protection
A Courting Justice Novel
Print Book: Amazon
About the book
To high-end defense attorney Henry Garrison, Win Hughes is a woman he met during one of the most trying times of his life. She’s soft and warm, and he finds solace in their brief relationship. But Win has a secret. She’s actually Taylor Winston-Hughes—born to one of the wealthiest families in the country, orphaned as a child by a tragic accident. Win moves in the wealthiest circles, but her lavish lifestyle hides her pain.
When her best friend is murdered in the midst of a glittering New York gala, Win’s charged with the crime, and the only person in the world she wants to see is Henry.
Henry is shocked at the true identity of his lover, but he can’t reject the case. This case could take his new firm into the stratosphere. Still, he’s not getting burned by Win again. And yet every turn brings them closer together.
As the case takes a wild turn and Win's entire life is upended, she must look to the people she's closest to in order to find a killer. And Henry must decide between making his case and saving the woman he loves…
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Henry Garrison sat on the back-porch steps, looking out at the Atlantic. The waves were calm at this time of day, an endless beat that once had been the rhythm of his childhood. The sky was darkening, a storm coming in with savage quickness. It was one of the things he’d always loved about this place. One minute the sky was perfect, and then some terrible storm would roll in, and thirty minutes later the world was back to flawless again.
If only his life had turned out to be so quick to change. Oh, it had gotten shitty fast, but the cleanup afterward seemed like it might take a lifetime.
He let the coffee cup he held warm his hands and concentrated on the beach. When he looked out over that sand, he could practically see his grandfather walking. The old man who’d raised him had walked the shoreline every single day, combing the beach he’d known for decades as though he would find something new. He would show back up with some shell or sand dollar like it was a treasure.
Damn but he missed that old man.
Sometimes he didn’t though. He was happy his grandfather hadn’t lived long enough to see the complete wreck Henry had made of his life. Along with his daily walk on the beach, Alistair Garrison had sat right here on this porch and read the New York Times every single morning while sipping his two cups of coffee. Never more, because that would be too indulgent.
Control and discipline, my boy. Those are the keys to life.
Yeah, his grandfather hadn’t lived long enough to watch his only grandchild, the golden boy, fall from grace because of booze and arrogance. He hadn’t had to watch as the New York Bar had nearly taken away his ability to practice law. He hadn’t been alive to witness the downfall of his grandson’s made-for-the-tabloids marriage, and Henry was sure as hell happy he hadn’t been alive to know that his precious house was being put on the market to pay off a never-ending series of bills he’d run up when he’d been married. He’d bought cars and houses and other shit he didn’t need.
Most of which he didn’t even own anymore. He’d had to sell almost everything to simply keep his head above water. He’d blown it all on booze and luxury vacations and clothes with price tags that would have made his grandfather roll over in his grave.
Henry gripped the coffee cup with both hands, willing himself to stay out here on the porch and not go back inside the small but beautifully decorated bungalow. That had been his grandmother’s doing, and he reminded himself that he was happy she hadn’t witnessed his tragedy either.
He’d been packing up the closet in the smaller of the two bedrooms when he’d found a wooden box containing a lifetime’s worth of photos. They were black-and-white and color. Some had been professionally done—his father’s army photo, his grandfather’s wedding portrait, Henry’s Harvard graduation portrait. Some had been from the various cameras his grandfather had used over the years. There had also been a Bible with a pressed white rose in it. His mother’s.
Pictures of the dead. Pictures of people who’d smiled and had lives, and then they were gone and he was left behind.
But those bittersweet memories weren’t what had prompted Henry to practically run out of the house.
Nope. It had been the small bottle of Scotch he’d found. There had been almost half the bottle left. He’d looked at that liquid gold and known exactly how it would taste, how it would smell, the way it would burn down his throat. He’d stared at it and figured he could get three decent glasses out of it. He could go to the kitchen, grab one of the crystal tumblers his grandmother had been proud of, and sit and toast all that death.
He’d dropped the bottle on the carpet and walked out of the house. He’d walked to the small café two blocks from the beach and ordered a large coffee and told himself that he could keep the monster locked in that room. He would simply sell the contents of the house along with the structure.
The problem was, the monster didn’t live in the bottle. The monster was with Henry always.
His cell trilled, and he practically breathed a sigh of relief. Work was something he could deal with. Work was an addiction he could sink into. He set the cup down and answered the call. “This is Garrison.”
“Hey, buddy. How’s the packing going?” David Cormack’s voice came over the line, a steady sound that soothed Henry. There was something about the ex–NFL star turned lawyer that Henry found oddly calming. David never flipped his shit, never got angry or emotional, but managed to also never seem cold.
David’s whole world had turned upside down, all his hopes and dreams burned to cinders, and all he’d done was find a new dream. Henry would bet that not once had David ever had a drunken screaming argument with his wife in the middle of a Manhattan restaurant with a phalanx of reporters documenting every moment for posterity.
Of course, David was a widower. He didn’t argue with his wife at all.
“I’m getting through it. I only got in yesterday. I’m going to pack up anything personal and let the movers take the rest.” He wasn’t going to talk to David about the fact that he was on the back porch hiding out from a bottle of Scotch. David had enough to deal with. “Did the kid get in all right?”
The kid was named Noah Lawless, and he was the only fucking reason Henry Garrison was still going to be able to practice law in Manhattan. After his disastrous divorce, he didn’t have the influence or the cash flow to keep up his private practice. Manhattan’s best criminal lawyer had become a has-been, and only his connection to the incredibly powerful Lawless family was saving him this time.
Once upon a time, he’d defended Riley Lawless’s future wife from embezzlement and fraud charges. Not that she’d needed much defending, since she’d actually been innocent, but getting Ellie out of jail had apparently endeared him to the clan, and when he’d needed help, they’d been amenable. They were funding him for the time being. They were also his only real client.
Of course, that meant doing Drew Lawless, the family patriarch and head of their multibillion dollar company, a massive favor and taking on his baby brother as a freaking junior partner. But a desperate man did what he had to do. Noah wasn’t coming in as an associate, the way he should. He had his damn name on the door.
“He’s not as bad as you think.” David knew how reluctant Henry was to take on an entitled kid. He’d dealt with enough rich pricks to last a lifetime.
Despite the fact that he was sitting on one of the world’s most affluent islands, he hadn’t grown up wealthy. The house had been built by his boat captain great-grandfather back in the 1920s and passed down the line. His grandfather had been a fisherman, and his father had gone into the military. After his father had died, Henry had grown up here as a townie. It had only been later on that he’d turned into an overprivileged asshole of a human being.
“I think he’s probably pretty bad, so you’re not giving me a lot of confidence.” Henry wished he hadn’t stopped smoking. No more smoking. No more drinking. No more random, meaningless sex. Being virtuous was starting to get to him. He needed a good murder case, and soon, or he wouldn’t know what to do with himself. “The kid went to Creighton Academy. They’re all rich jerks who never worked a day in their lives.”
“He’s not what you would think, and you know his background. He practically raised himself. I like him. And he’s damn good with computers,” David said, his enthusiasm coming over the line.
“I would think he should be.” The Lawless family money was built on technology. 4L Software was known for innovation. “I don’t know why he didn’t go into tech in the first place. He could be working at 4L.”
“Maybe you don’t know him as well as I do. Read the files I send you every now and then. Or at least pretend to. He used to be a hacker, and it got him into some trouble. Things got violent, and he wants to stay as far away from that world as possible. When he went to college, he liked the law classes he took, and here he is.”
“Yes, big brother bought him a law firm.” And two partners. There was really no way around that. “I’m sure he’s also got a multimillion-dollar penthouse. I’m sure he’ll be supereasy to deal with.”
“Can the sarcasm, please,” David admonished. “As I was trying to explain, he’s worth more than the cash he’s bringing in, and he is very helpful. The network went down, and he got it up and working long before the IT guy I called managed to get to the office. By the way, we could use an in-house IT guy.”
They could use a lot of things they weren’t going to get. “Find me his salary in our budget and we’ll talk. Until then, the Creighton kid can do it, apparently. How did the meeting with Keillor go?”
Greg Keillor was a Wall Street businessman accused of murdering his business partner. The police believed he had one hell of a motive. A quarter of a billion dollars was worth killing over in a lot of people’s minds. It was exactly the kind of case Henry liked to sink his teeth into. High-profile, tons of billable hours, a client who could pay his freaking bill. Yeah, he wanted in on that. He’d been back in New York for less than a year, and most of his cases had been small-time. He’d done a couple of pro bono, mea culpa I’m-still-a-beast cases, but it was time to move back into prime time.
“I’m sorry, man. Keillor decided to go with Dustin and Klaus.” There was something tight in David’s tone.
“What did he say?” If this had been three years ago, Keillor would have been begging to have the Monster of Manhattan as his attorney. Henry Garrison would have been the first number he called. Henry would have been the one to make sure the case was worth his time.
Unfortunately, this was today.
“It doesn’t matter,” David insisted.
“It matters to me.” He should let it go, but he couldn’t. Now it was almost more real than it had been before, because now he wasn’t simply Henry Garrison, Esquire. He was a member of Garrison, Cormack, and Lawless. He’d brought himself down. How much harder would it be to bring them all down? After all, he hadn’t meant to do it the first time.
“He wasn’t interested in a lawyer who was more scandalous than he was,” David replied, his tone wry. “See? He’s a massive ass if he thinks divorcing your actress wife is more scandalous than beating his business partner to death with a polo mallet. Also, might I add that he was a shitty polo player and that was the most action his mallet ever saw. I don’t want him as a client.”
That was David. He looked to the silver lining. “You need to think about this, man. I know we’ve been friends for a long time, but you might do better on your own.”
It was an argument they’d had many times since the night his old friend had come to him and offered to start up a law firm. Henry had pointed out that no one wanted an addict, who couldn’t even keep a wife, as a lawyer.
David had pointed out that no one would want a washed-up jock, who hadn’t been known for his brains, as a lawyer.
“Stop. There’s no going back now. We’re in this and we’re a team. And you know it’s not all bad,” David quipped. “This office is small but spectacular. Drew Lawless knows how to pick real estate. The view impresses the hell out of everyone. I’ve already got two clients, and one of them is the Missiles. We should be rolling in dough soon, because you know how those athletes can be.”
He sighed in relief. David had been trying to get on as the Manhattan Missiles’ lawyer on retainer for months. It was a secret no one liked to talk about, but many professional sports teams kept criminal lawyers on retainer just in case. They wouldn’t be rolling in dough, as he’d said, but that retainer would keep the lights on. And it was a serious win for his friend. “Good for you, man.”
“Yeah, well, the new GM is an old friend of mine,” David admitted. “But you’re the one who told me half this business is who you know. Speaking of who you know…there’s a rumor floating around that a group of New York–based reality stars are hanging around Martha’s Vineyard for the end of the summer. No cameras. Apparently this is vacation time, so they might be willing to talk.”
He groaned. That was not a world he wanted to set foot in. He’d been around the elite of the entertainment world, and they were bad enough. Reality shows were pretty much the bottom of the barrel. “Absolutely not.”
“Come on. You know that’s a gold mine,” David countered, his voice going low. It was the same tone he used when trying to get a jury to see his point. Look at how sensible I’m being. Don’t mind the facts. Isn’t my voice soothing? He had to admit it. David had that shit down. “And it’s publicity, Henry. You’re the one who taught me getting your name out there is half the battle. This would be a great way to announce you’re back and you’re not afraid of anything. It’s work just waiting to happen. They always get in trouble. It’s actually a part of their career paths. If their ratings stall, they get arrested and do an apologetic media tour. That group has been going for more than five years now. They’re all about to hit thirty, and that’s geriatric on their network. Rumors are it’s going to get canceled soon. One of those kids is going to do something stupid, and we could be the lawyers who get paid for mopping up the mess.”
The thought made Henry’s stomach churn. He glanced out over the beach. It was peaceful. So unlike his former life. At this time of evening, the families had gone in for early dinners and the only person he could see was a woman jogging toward him from the east side of the island.
She was brave, because that storm was moving in even faster than he’d thought. There wasn’t much the way she was going. No shops unless she made a turn and jogged into Edgartown proper.
“I’m not getting back into that life—even as the janitor,” Henry replied. “Besides, after the way I left L.A., I don’t think there’s a studio or a network around that would recommend anything with my name on it.”
That had been the real mistake. He’d followed his bombshell actress wife out to La La Land, and that’s where it had all gone to hell. He should never have left the East Coast. God, there were pictures of him in douchebag V-neck T-shirts and skinny jeans. What had he been thinking?
He’d come back to New York with his tail between his legs and a big decision to make. Keep the home he’d grown up in or the Manhattan condo that impressed potential clients. In the end, there had been no other logical choice. The Martha’s Vineyard property was worth even more than the condo, but he couldn’t practice out here. Oh, he was perfectly licensed to practice in the state of Massachusetts, but there wasn’t much to do. The worst thing that happened out here was someone’s Maltipoo violating the dog-doo rules.
Unfortunately, the murders were few and far between.
“Think about it,” David said with a sigh. “I know you hate the fact that you have to climb the ladder again, but it won’t take as long this time. New York is different than L.A., and you know it. That Harvard degree means something here.”
So did his public meltdowns. They had been scandal fodder in L.A., but they were serious here in New York. New York lawyers were serious. They did not make headlines for anything but winning cases. “I’ll think about it.”
He wouldn’t, but he owed the lie to David. He glanced up again, and the jogger was getting closer. She was pretty, from this far out. Not the type he’d gotten used to in L.A. Thank god. This woman looked healthy. Nice breasts that not even her sports bra could force to be still. They moved in a way that let him know they weren’t made of silicone. Her blond hair was up in a ponytail, leaving her face exposed. She wasn’t all angles and planes. There was a softness to her even as she jogged along.
He heard the first rumble of thunder and saw her glance up at the sky.
“All right, then,” David said with a long sigh. “I’ll let you go, but seriously think about what I said. That chick Brie Westerhaven alone could bring in millions if she’s anything like her dad. And I seem to remember there was a best friend. Some superskinny heiress.”
“Yeah, I know who you’re talking about,” he replied. His ex-wife, Alicia, had been obsessed with Kendalmire’s Way. It was a reality show about the über-rich and idiotic. One of the “stars” had been a woman named Taylor Winston. “She was the Billion-Dollar Baby.”
When Taylor’s parents’ yacht had gone down in a storm on their way to Bermuda, there had been only one survivor—a baby found floating in a life vest. The newspapers had called it a miracle, and Taylor Winston had inherited a multibillion-dollar fortune before she’d turned two. Too bad she hadn’t used it to get an education. He knew little about her and didn’t want to know more.
The woman jogging by him was probably a local. She was too healthy to be a model. She was at least a whole size six, and in that world she would be plus-sized. Those breasts wouldn’t fit in designer wear, and she was wearing a plain T-shirt, cutoff sweats, and old-school Ray-Bans. Her sneakers were nothing special. There was none of the blingy designer crap the wealthy and desperate-to-be-seen wore. And this was a quiet beach. No cameras or gawkers.
He nodded her way, giving her a friendly smile. He didn’t recognize her, but then he’d been gone for nearly twenty years. Maybe he could visit some old acquaintances during this last two weeks.
Or maybe he should get his ass back to New York. “Are you sure you’re all right with me taking this time?”
“Stop, Henry. Take it. This is the last time you’ll get to be in that house, and you’ll regret it if you don’t pack it up yourself,” David insisted.
And regret was one thing he didn’t need more of. “Have I told you how much I appreciate you?”
The old Henry had appreciated nothing. The new Henry wasn’t going to make the same mistake.
“Never. But you could let me win the next time we play golf,” David suggested.
“That will be the day.” He hung up, feeling a bit better.
And then even better, because the blonde smiled back at him and he was damn near knocked over by those sweet dimples. She was soft and sexy and…
Clumsy. She hit something in the sand and went flying.
He let the phone drop and got off the steps, racing toward her. He’d saved many a woman from tripping in five-inch heels on the streets of Manhattan, but this was his first sneaker rescue. She was facedown in the sand when he got to her. It was shitty and super- male of him, but he couldn’t help but notice that she filled out those sweats. Her backside was gorgeous and curvy.
She didn’t move.
“Are you all right?”
“It depends. Is this a weird anxiety dream?” She stayed down, her face inches from the sand. “Because then I’m sure I’ll be okay. I’m nervous about starting grad school in a couple of weeks, and you could be a stand-in for all those professors at Duke who are going to be grading my work soon. So if you’ll turn into a walrus and start singing, my work will be better.”
Oh, he liked a quirky girl. It was absolutely where drunk-ass too-rich-for-his-own-good Henry split from the Henry he’d been when he’d lived here. The blond hair and curves were nice, but the weird sense of humor was what really did it for him. “And if I’m nothing more than a guy sitting on his back porch?”
“Then I’m planning on lying here until you go away, and then I’ll slink off and never come back again.”
He didn’t want her to slink away. She might be the most interesting thing that had happened to him in a long time. What would it be like to sit with a normal woman for a few hours? A grad student. Didn’t get more normal than that. “There is a third option.”
“I’m listening.” She turned her head slightly, and he could see her lips starting to curl up.
He knelt down. “You could let me help you up and take a look at your ankle.”
“Are you a doctor?”
She groaned and let her head sink back to the sand. “Nope. I’m staying here. Can’t deal with lawyers. This is my home now.”
“Well, your home is going to get awfully wet in a few hours when high tide comes in. How about I promise not to throw any legal crap your way and you let me ice that ankle before it swells, and then you can decide if you want to become a mermaid.” He didn’t usually bring random women inside his childhood home. Hell, he hadn’t brought them back even when he’d lived here.
But he wanted to talk to her. She was intriguing. Even more now that he realized she was a weirdo.
She glanced up at him and frowned. “Sure you’re not a ridiculously hot figment of my imagination?”
That was another plus. She had terrible taste in men and likely no idea who the hell he was. “One hundred percent real.” He could guess at what made her skittish. “And you should know that I found your swan dive charming and attractive. Now let me get you inside. It’s going to rain soon.”
She groaned. “Yep, that’s what my nana said. She won’t let me live it down if I come home looking like a drowned rat. Is it all right if I ride it out?”
“Anything for a fellow townie.”
She pushed up and winced as she got to one knee.
He held out a hand and helped her up. “I’m Henry Garrison, by the way.”
She smiled, and those ridiculously adorable and yet sexy-as-hell dimples showed up. “Winnie Hughes. But please call me Win. Not that the nickname is applicable today. It’s nice to meet you. Actually, the ankle’s not too bad. It’s mostly my pride and the fact that if I don’t get in before it starts raining, people are probably going to see way more of me than they want to. I was so sure it wouldn’t rain that I picked a thin white T-shirt. That’s what I get for rebelling against authority.”
He felt the first drop of rain hit his head and managed to not keep her longer. He wasn’t going to be some leering stranger. After all, he wasn’t that far out from his divorce. It had only been six months since he’d signed on the dotted line, and he wasn’t about to be the idiot who threw himself back into the ocean after nearly drowning.
She was a townie, and he was going to miss the hell out of this place, so he would play nice.
Also, for the first time in hours, he wasn’t thinking about a drink. “Come on. Let’s get inside.”
The sky chose that moment to open up and bring down a deluge. Win squealed in a wholly feminine way and ran for the porch. Henry followed her, thankful because he knew he was going to make it one more day.
That was all he could ask for at this point.
* * * *
Taylor Winston-Hughes took the tea from her gentleman savior. Outside, the rain beat against the roof of his small house. Her clothes were in his dryer, and she wore a way-too-big-for-her Havard T-shirt and pajama bottoms she’d had to tie around her body. Her hair was in a towel, and she was absolutely certain she looked ridiculous.
Naturally, she looked like a crazy person and he was a gorgeous god of a man.
“Thanks.” She looked up at him, hoping she wasn’t drooling. He was an actual man and not a boy in designer clothes. She would bet he didn’t spend all day checking his Twitter or starting flame wars with other celebs. “So you live here? I haven’t seen you around.”
She’d been on the island for six months. Six months since she’d gotten back from Sweden. Six months since she’d hugged her counselor and walked back out into the world. Would Helena be proud of her that she hadn’t even hesitated to ask for sugar for her tea? Real sugar. And she was going to eat one of those cookies he’d put out, because they looked really good and her life was going to be about joy now, not fitting into some tiny piece of fabric and having the world celebrate her for not eating.
“I used to,” he admitted, holding out the plate. He smiled at her. “Don’t get excited. I didn’t make them. Actually, that’s something to be excited about, because I’m a terrible cook. I got them from the bakery in town.”
“Christina’s.” She knew the place well. She took one of the snickerdoodles. “I love that place. She makes the best madeleines.”
He put the plate down and sat across from her. “When I was a kid, the place was run by her mom, the original Christina. Though she answers to the name, the woman who runs it now is actually named Dawn. I went to high school with her. Never thought she’d come home to run the bakery. I believe she left the island the day after we graduated with dreams of becoming the next great country singer.”
Win shuddered slightly at the thought. She knew too many desperate artists. Her house was full of them right now. It was why she’d gone for that jog despite the weather. If she’d had to listen to one more complaint from Brie’s overly injected mouth, she would have screamed. “Yeah, I think that sounds horrible.”
Henry shrugged. “I suppose when you’re young it all seems like a good idea.”
“Somehow, I don’t see you dreaming of fronting a band.” There was something serious about the man, even when he was smiling. “When I was a kid I wanted to be a zookeeper. Then I got a real whiff of what it smelled like and I shifted my dreams.”
He laughed, a deep, rich sound. “I can see where that was a wise move. My grandfather was a fishing boat captain.”
She fought back another shiver. Though she couldn’t remember the accident that had taken her parents’ lives, it was embedded deep in her subconscious. She could get on a boat, but it bothered her. The storm bothered her, too, which proved how far she’d come. Now she found dealing with Brie and Hoover and Kipton was far worse than a potential storm. “I’m not big on boats.”
“But you live on an island.”
She did now. She could tell him about the Manhattan penthouse or the pied-à-terre she kept in Paris. She could mention the manor house outside London or the mansions in Bedford, Malibu, and Palm Beach, but she kind of liked being a townie. “Let’s say I’m working on getting over all my hang-ups. So you grew up here?”
She didn’t want to talk about herself. She’d spent way too much time doing that. If she could spend a day as Win Hughes, she would count it as a victory. She was trying her hardest to leave Taylor Winston-Hughes as far behind as possible.
“I did. This house has been in my family for a couple of generations. The Garrisons have lived on Chappaquiddick since long before it became associated with the Kennedys.”
Her eyes went wide. “I left the main island? Wow. I got on to one of the trails and started following it. I wasn’t thinking.”
He had to laugh. “Haven’t been here long, have you?”
“My nana moved here ten years ago.” Right after Win had left for college. Right before she’d fallen in with the ridiculous crowd and wrecked her life. Mary Hannigan had been her nanny all Win’s life, and when Win had moved, she’d decided to take over running the house on Martha’s Vineyard. She’d wanted a quieter life, but Win suspected she’d mostly wanted to be rid of Win’s uncle.
After the last year, Win had wanted nothing more than to find home again, and for her, it wasn’t a place. Home was a person, a person she shared not a drop of blood with. “I kind of screwed up my life, and now I’m living with her until I start grad school. Typical millennial, you know. Almost thirty and still searching.”
“Well, I’m moving toward forty and I still don’t have it figured out. I think it’s a human thing.” He sat back. “I miss my grandfather. You’re lucky to still have family. I’m afraid I am the last of my line.”
She gave him a short smile. She was fairly certain it didn’t reach her eyes. “My family is very small and not warm. My parents died when I was young, and I’ve been raised by my uncle ever since. Not that he had much to do with me. He was busy running the business my dad left behind. It’s been me and Nana for as long as I can remember.”
It wasn’t like she was going to see Mr. Gorgeous again. She was leaving for North Carolina in a couple of weeks, and according to him, he was selling this place. There wasn’t any real reason for her to explain the complexities of her life to a stranger. Actually, he might be a nice diversion before she threw herself into her studies.
She needed a diversion. Brie constantly trying to get her back on the show was proving to be stressful.
It was obvious to her this man had no idea who she was, and she liked it that way. Especially since she knew exactly who he was. Henry Garrison, former Manhattan attorney turned Alicia Kingman’s latest victim. She’d heard he’d gone into rehab after leaving L.A., and she believed it. He looked good and seemed calm and centered.
He was exactly the kind of man she could spend some time with. But once they were both back in New York, their paths wouldn’t cross, since she was staying completely out of social circles as much as possible from now on. There would be her charity work, but since they’d never bumped into each other before, she had no reason to think they would again.
The house rattled with the next clap of thunder.
“You all right?” Henry asked.
“I don’t like storms much either.” She’d almost gotten caught in this one. This part of the island wasn’t filled with houses and shops. It was stark and beautiful and isolated. It was why she spent so much time here, though she was usually on the Edgartown side of the beach. She glanced at the window. Lightning blanketed the sky.
“It’s okay.” His voice was deep and rich. “It’s hurricane glass, and this isn’t a hurricane. It’s a nasty storm, and from what I read on the weather site when I went to make the tea, it’s going to last a couple of hours. We should talk about what that might mean.”
It would be dark by the time she could start back. “I can call a cab. Well, maybe.”
“I’ll drive you back. I have a Jeep up here, but there might not be a road left,” he said. “The beach often floods. In fact, if you’d been here a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to get lost like you did. Norton Point Beach went underwater for eight years. It could do the same tonight, though it shouldn’t last quite that long.”
Oh god. She was stuck. “Is there a motel?”
“Not close, and again, I wouldn’t drive around as long as the storm is going. My nearest neighbor is about a mile to the east. I could try to get you there if you’re worried I’m a serial killer who waits for his victims to fall while jogging by.”
When put like that, it didn’t seem at all likely. Also, she was fairly certain he meant her no harm. She had some friends who knew Alicia, and they had nothing but good things to say about her third victim…husband. Alicia Kingman was a tornado who swept up men and tended to drop them again in a place that had been devastated. She kind of understood that. “If you don’t mind, could I stay for a while?”
“I would not mind the company at all,” he said, his voice warm. “I’ll be honest. I’ve been lonely for the last couple of days. Going through all my grandparents’ things has made me melancholy, and I forgot how isolated it is out here.”
He was packing up his childhood and looking forward to an uncertain future. Yes, she definitely understood that. How long had it been since she’d been around a real man? One who cared about something beyond his Instagram followers and how his hair looked? There had been a guy in Sweden, but she’d had to focus on herself and getting healthy.
It would be nice to spend an evening with a man she could talk to. “Thank you. I’ll call home and let them know I’m safe. Do you have a landline? My cell isn’t getting service.”
“Of course.” He stood up. “It’s in the den on the desk. I’m going to head into the kitchen and pray I can heat something up for dinner.”
“I’m pretty handy in the kitchen. I’ll be right there. I can pay for my room and board with my culinary skills.” She’d grown up in Nana Mary’s kitchen, helping her make meals and learning how to bake.
She’d relearned how to eat, and oddly, it all seemed new again. New palate. New girl.
New woman. She wasn’t going back to being a girl again.
“I’ll see what we have.” He grimaced. “Besides frozen dinners for one. We might be choosing between frozen mac and cheese and Salisbury steaks. You might prefer the storm.”
Oh, she knew that wasn’t true. “I promise. I can come up with something good.”
He pushed open the door that led to the kitchen. “I’ll hold you to that.”
The door swung shut. Damn, that man was fine. He was roughly six-two, with ridiculously dark hair and blue eyes. Had he been wearing glasses she would have called him Clark Kent. He did have a jaw of steel. Something about a cut jawline did it for her. Broad shoulders and a fit body rounded out his status as a complete hottie.
She was never going to call him a hottie, but he was.
She picked up the phone and dialed the number to the landline at Hughes House. She’d been forced to memorize it as a child. Nana Mary hadn’t wanted her out playing without a way to contact her, but she’d also wanted her to have some freedom during those summer months.
Only her castmates from the old show called her Taylor. She was Win to her real friends. She’d been Win to Brie for years before that stupid show. The fact that her childhood friend now exclusively called her Taylor said a lot about where they were. “Hey, Nana.”
She couldn’t bring herself to call the woman Mary.
A long sigh came over the line. “Thank god. I was worried. You’ve been gone so long.” Her accent was strong, proving how emotional she was. “I was about to force those lazy boys of yours to get off the sofa and go and look for you.”
Hoover and Kip? She would bet they’d spent the afternoon playing video games and taking selfies. “Please don’t. They rarely drive themselves and won’t have any idea how to handle a car in this weather. They would kill someone. I’m fine. I’m at a friend’s house, and I might stay here if the weather doesn’t break.”
“A friend?” There was no small amount of suspicion in her voice, but Win couldn’t blame her. After all, she hadn’t been smart in choosing friends before. “I didn’t realize you still had friends on the island.”
She had a couple of acquaintances, but any real friends she’d made during those childhood summers had left the island long ago and were out in the world making lives for themselves. “All right. He’s a new friend. I met him recently, but he did save me from becoming a land mermaid. He’s got a place on Chappaquiddick. I must have wandered over here.”
“The closest house to those trails is the Garrison place.” Mary was quiet for a moment. “Are they renting it out, or is the son there? I know the grandfather passed a few years back, but the son was a nice boy. You were a bit too young to remember him, but he was extremely polite.”
It was funny that was what she remembered, since it wasn’t his reputation now. However, Win knew sometimes reputations weren’t earned. “Yes, his name is Henry and he assures me he’s not a serial killer.”
“Did he say that? Because that’s what I would say if I was a serial killer.”
“It was a joke. He’s nice, and he offered me the phone so I could tell you where I am. Hardly the actions of a man about to murder me.” She had to smile because at least someone gave a damn. “I’ll call you in the morning, and I’m sorry I left you with guests. I promise I’ll get rid of them as soon as possible. Once they figure out I’m not coming back on the show, they’ll move on and find someone else.”
There would be a line waiting to take her place.
“Don’t worry about it, love. But Brianna is here and she’s insisting on speaking to you,” Nana said, her voice going professional. There was barely a hint of her Polish accent now. “And your uncle is here. He managed to fly in before the storm hit and he’s staying for a few days. He wants you to sign some paperwork for the foundation.”
“All right. I need to talk to him about the fund-raiser, too. The good news is, I’ve got everything ready and the invitations went out months ago. I need to wrangle a nice check out of him and then the pocketbooks should open up.” Her uncle wasn’t a cold man. He simply wasn’t great father material. He’d done right by her in a way though. He’d given her Mary and ensured that Mary had everything she needed to be a mother. He’d allowed Mary to make all the decisions, and he’d shown up from time to time and sent lavish gifts for her birthday. She certainly didn’t hate her uncle. They’d managed to get closer since she’d grown up. He simply hadn’t known what to do with a child, which was odd since he’d had one of his own. Not that he’d spent time with his son, either. “I’m going to talk to him about taking over the foundation. I want to be more than a figure-head. I can do more than plan a fund-raiser.”
“Once you have your master’s degree, he won’t be able to argue with you,” Mary said. “And he’ll have to deal with you once you turn thirty. You’ll be his boss then. He won’t be able to treat you like a child.”
She didn’t like to think about it, but it was true. She would come into her inheritance when she got married or turned thirty. The marriage thing hadn’t happened, but the birthday was inevitable. She’d been assured nothing had to change, except she would sign more paperwork. “Don’t even tease him about that. I have no idea what I would do if Uncle Bellamy didn’t take care of the business. I want to concentrate on the foundation, not on making cash. Tell him I’ll be there as soon as I can, and maybe don’t mention I’m at a strange man’s place.”
While he wasn’t the most involved of guardians, he could be a bit on the protective side. The last thing she needed was her uncle calling down a bunch of PIs on Henry Garrison. He’d had enough scrutiny for a lifetime.
“I’ll be silent as the grave, love. Here she is.”
“Jesus, Tay, where are you? How could you leave me stuck here? This place is supposed to be all luxurious and shit, but it’s superdull. I can see an ocean back in L.A.” Brie’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard after the soothing ease of Henry’s.
“Then you should go back to L.A. I’m stuck on Chappaquiddick, and I won’t be back until the morning,” she explained. “Don’t even try to go out in this. No clubbing tonight. They won’t be open in this storm.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do then?”
Win looked over the bookshelves in front of her. They were built-in and ran the length of one wall. There were some pictures, but the shelves were mostly used as they had been intended. The owner of this home loved books. She ran her fingers over the spines. The Complete Works of Melville. Mutiny on the Bounty. In the Heart of the Sea. There was definitely a theme going. But there was also a shelf of legal-looking books, and she found another with Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
“Read a book,” she said to Brie.
Laughter came over the line. “That’s funny. I guess I’ll give myself a facial or something and post it online. And you know I’m not leaving. I’m going to help you with the fund-raiser, and we have to meet with Sully next week.”
Win knelt down, looking at the bottom shelf, where the paperbacks were. Oh, those told a tale. There were a bunch of split-spined Stephen King books down there, along with novelized adaptations of big Hollywood sci-fi films. Michael Moorcock and a Dan Simmons. And a thick stack of comic books. Nerd. He’d been a nerd.
Somehow that made him even hotter.
Was she actually thinking about seducing the Monster of Manhattan?
Could she? He’d been a gentleman up to this point, but he’d also definitely been flirting with her.
“I’m going to be happy to see Sully, but I’m not coming back to the show. He doesn’t want me back.” Sullivan Roarke was the producer of Kendalmire’s Way. He was a genuinely lovely man. He was the one who’d been kind enough to fire her. He’d also sent her to Sweden, and every week that she was in the clinic a lovely new bouquet of flowers had been delivered with a note wishing her well.
Getting fired was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She would love to see Sully, but she would never work with him again.
“You’re wrong. He knows how important you are and what your story line would mean to the series.”
“Story line?” It always made her a little nauseous to think about the fact that her life was some kind of story line to entertain people. There was a pause that let Win know Brie was still capable of some form of subtlety. “Win, you went through something rough.” She’d gone through anorexia. “I’m good now. Hell, some people would even say I’m moving toward heifer status.”
The bitchy mean girls would definitely say it. If she put herself back on the Internet, the trolls would have a field day with her. She wasn’t afraid of them anymore, but she also no longer needed their approval.
“Don’t say that about yourself,” Brie said, her voice more emotional than Win could ever remember.
It was good to know that under all that Hollywood chic, Brie still cared. “I wasn’t saying it about myself, but other people will. Going through what I went through is precisely why I can’t go back to that world, Brie. The first thing the producers will say is that I would look better on camera if I lost a few pounds. Nothing serious. No more than five pounds at most. A single dress size. And they’ll be right. I did look better on camera.”
“You’re beautiful now, Win.”
Tears pierced her eyes. “That’s the first time you’ve called me that in years.”
“Because I don’t want to screw up in public. Look, I’ll back off for now, but you could show young girls that they don’t have to be a size zero. I know I’m a freaking caricature of myself now. I do get that, but I remember who I am underneath it all, and if you come back, I will defend you. I love you, Win. I don’t say it often enough, but I admire you. I wish I could be more like you.”
“You are the toughest chick I know, Brie Westerhaven,” Win said with a smile. “You don’t need to be anyone but your own fabulous self.”
Brie chuckled over the line. “Yeah, well, we tabloid babies have to stick together. You safe where you are? Because I can come get you.”
“I’m good. A white knight saved me from the storm. I’m going to sleep on his couch.” She found a bunch of old board games.
“On his couch? Is he hot?”
“Yes, he is, but he’s also not the type who parties it up. I think I really will be on the couch tonight.”
“Every man is the type to save a pretty girl and have her pay him back with her sweet, sweet body.” Brie was right back to her usual role—dirty sprite. “I like this, Win. Handsome man saves innocent woman and requests her body as payment.”
“I’m hanging up now.” She wasn’t going there. “Good night.”
She hung up the phone and pulled out a battered edition of Clue. She remembered that game well.
There was the sound of pans clanging and a low growl of masculine frustration.
She needed to fix that if she was going to have any chance of not sleeping alone. Perhaps if she fed the beast, he would be in a more affectionate mood.
Or she could accept that she was going to pass a pleasant but passionless evening with a nice man. She shoved the Clue box back and pulled out Monopoly. Not as much fun, but given what was happening in her life, it was the safer bet.
She carried it with her as she made her way into the kitchen.
After all, she didn’t need to play a murder game. Not when a killer was stalking her.
She glanced outside, at the lightning flaring along the sky. At least for tonight, she seemed to be safe.
Copyright Lexi Blake 2018