Dane Whiteclaw knows something about Sheila Warren that no one else does. Dane knows Sheila's dead.
The ex-special forces agent turned private investigator had found a photo under his door a picture of Sheila's body. She had been strangled with his tie and posed on the beach of his private island in the Florida Keys. The crime appears to be the handiwork of a serial killer currently terrorizing the Miami area. Dane is being set up to take the fall for the killings. He just doesn't know why.
Kelsey Cunningham is Sheila's best friend. When she can't find Sheila, she confronts one person she thinks will have information Dane, Sheila's former lover and a man Kelsey knows from her own past. Dane makes it clear he doesn't want Kelsey getting involved. But it's obvious he knows more than he's saying, and she'll do whatever it takes to discover the whereabouts of her missing friend.
Driven by fear for Sheila and guilt at not being there when her friend needed her, Kelsey follows Sheila's tracks into a wild and dangerous world of sex, violence and drugs. Dane is right behind her, an unwanted protector in the shark-infested waters she's swimming. But the tentative trust between them shatters when Sheila's body is discovered and Kelsey recognizes Dane's tie.
Now Kelsey doesn't dare trust anyone. Especially a man she can no longer deny she has always loved. She begins to look over her shoulder, suddenly very afraid. Because here on Hurricane Bay, a devastating storm can hit without warning, and whether it's a tempest of unbridled passion or the desperate fury of a killer, nothing and no one is safe.
New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than ninety novels, several of which have been featured by the Doubleday Book Club and the Literary Guild. There are more than twenty million copies of her books in print and she has been published in more than fifteen languages. Heather lives with her husband and five children in Miami, Florida.
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Kelsey Cunningham walked into the Sea Shanty like a diminutive whirlwind.
Dane Whitelaw was stretched out on one of the lounge chairs beneath the palm-covered roof of the back patio when he saw her walk through the rows of crude wooden tables toward him.
He'd been sitting there downing draft Budweiser as if it were water, and it still hadn't dulled the brutal dilemma that pounded through his mind like a storm surge.
He'd come here, far off the main road, to sit in the breeze and watch the boats out on the gulf because it was something he often did. The norm for him. Usually, though, he didn't inhale his beer. If he'd expected something to happen after his recent discovery, it sure as hell wasn't her.
The minute his eyes fell on her, he knew she just meant more trouble.
She wore designer shades, a straw hat, sandals and a brief white halter dress. She was tanned, and her hair was a light honey shade, not the kind of color caused by endless days in the sun but a natural amber. She had dressed the part for a lazy, laidback place like this one she was even carrying some kind of fruity, umbrella-laden drink in a plastic cup. She looked like a tourist, which maybe she was now.
She knew him right away. Well, naturally. He hadn't changed much. She, on the other hand, had changed. Despite that, he had known her the minute she entered his vision. And a single word had come into his mind.
What the hell was Kelsey doing here now?
She made straight for him with long, no-nonsense strides and stopped right next to his chair.
Even with the heat, she managed to smell like some kind of expensive perfume. She was well-built, smooth and sleek, nice cleavage displayed above the bodice of the casual white dress that still managed to maintain a strange look of elegance on her form. She had gained an edge of sophistication in the years that yawned between them. And she didn't seem to remember him with any affection, or that they might once have been considered friends. Still, Kelsey was a beauty. Always had been, always would be. And a torpedo of pure determination.
And, long ago now, she had determined to keep herself far away.
So what the hell was she doing here now? Today, of all damned times?
She didn't give him a chance to ask, didn't even start off with so much as a simple "Hello."
"Where's Sheila?" she asked, a sharp note of demand in her voice.
His heart slammed. The name hit him like a blow to the head.
"Sheila?" he said, forcing a quizzical frown to his lips.
"Yes, Dane, where's Sheila?"
He studied her for a long moment. "Hmm. Not, 'Hi, Dane, how are you?' Or, 'Long time no see. How are you?'"
"Don't get funny. And don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about."
"Kid, I'm not pretending anything."
"Don't call me 'kid,' Dane."
"Sorry. You are still Joe's kid sister, aren't you?"
"Dane, where is Sheila? And don't tell me you haven't seen her. There are witnesses, you know."
"Witnesses to what?"
"No one has seen Sheila in a week. The last time she was seen was here, with you. And you're going to tell me exactly where she is."
He was glad of his own sunglasses. And though there were few times in his current life when he was glad of his past, this was one of them. He kept his face totally impassive.
Because he did know what had happened to Sheila Warren, even if he didn't know exactly where she was. And in the last two hours, the one driving purpose in his own life had become finding the exact whereabouts of Sheila.
Of all the damned things he didn't need, it was Kelsey Cunningham coming here now, accosting him. Looking for Sheila. As far as he knew, the two women hadn't seen each other in years.
"Sorry, kid. So she was here with me. She's here a lot. With a lot of different people. Why in God's name would I know where she is now . . . honey?" he asked, his voice a slow, lazy drawl, the tone purposefully insinuating. Why not? They weren't kids anymore. And the time when they'd been bonded together in sorrow was eons ago now. The last time they had met, she had been far more than cool. In fact, she'd been as frigid and brittle as ice.
Kelsey the compassionate. Sincere, earnest, a daredevil at times. Quick with laughter, swift to challenge. Full of empathy for an underdog; a pit bull against any evil, real or imagined. Once upon a time, Joe's darling of a sweet little sister.
"Dane, damnit, she talked to you. You were seeing her again."
Irrelevantly he noticed that she had grown into her effortless grace. And she had gained the ability to appear as cool and remote as a goddess.
He almost sat up, but didn't. He forced himself to shrug casually. "Seeing her? Well, yeah, honey, I was seeing her. In a way. Me and half the men in the southern half of the state, not to mention nearly every tourist in pants who set foot on the island."
"You asshole," she said. Her tone didn't rise, but something in her words conveyed the extent of her contempt.
"Yeah, honey, I'm an asshole. But before you go off in a tizzy about Sheila Warren, you need to accept the fact that she'd changed over the years. In fact, you pretty much need to accept the fact that she was damn close to being a prostitute."
She was silent for a moment. She didn't move, but it didn't matter. The fury she was feeling seemed to emanate from her like heat waves off black pavement.
"She was . . . a free spirit. But I know she was with you again and now she's missing. Someone knows something. If it's anyone, it has to be you. You talked to her, and she talked to you."
"Yes, she talked to me. And I talked to her."
"So talk to me."
He slid his glasses down his nose for a moment, studying her. "She talked to me nicely," he said.
"This isn't a social call."
"Right. So leave me alone."
"Since you don't seem to want to talk to me, I'll have to see to it that you talk to the police."
"Fine. The police are usually polite and courteous." He pushed his sunglasses back up his nose and folded his arms over his chest.
She was still staring down at him. He sighed and looked up at her impatiently.
"So what is it now? I can't help you. Can't you leave me alone anyway? See something you like? Hey, kid, have you changed, too? Just like Sheila? Do you want to . . . catch up on old times?"
Her composure was amazing. She took her time answering him.
"Do I see something I like? No, not at all. In fact, I'm amazed by how much I see I dislike."
"Well, then, you have changed, honey. So . . . you're not into the muscle-bound beach type anymore, huh?"
"I'm just not into assholes like you. Available? You must be joking."
He looked up at her blandly. "Is that all?"
"All? No, not quite."
She spoke softly, and, with an economy of motion, she twisted her wrist. The fruity drink fell over his chest like a rain of sticky slime. He almost jumped up to grab her. Instinct again.
He managed to keep his place on the lounge chair. It was important that she keep thinking of him as an asshole.
Strange, he hadn't seen her in years. But still . . . she was a Keys kid from way back. Joe's little sister.
No, Kelsey was a hell of a lot more than that, he reminded himself. But any fleeting memory of what might have been an inescapable bond in the past was quickly doused by the lethal trauma of the present.
Even more than he had feared when he first saw her, he realized that she was trouble. Real trouble.
And he sure as hell didn't want her . . .
Dear God, he didn't want her going the route Sheila had gone.
Still staring down at him, she shook her head with revulsion.
"An asshole and a drunk," she said. "You're covered in liquor and you don't even move."
"I imagine it's good booze. I'll just lick myself all over," he said. "Want to help?"
With one last took of disgust, she turned on her perfect little sandal-heels and started to walk away.
Despite himself, he got to his feet, every muscle in his body quickening with tension.
"Go to the cops, Kelsey, then get the hell out of the Keys, do you hear? Go back to your hot job and your condo on the bay. Do you understand?"
She paused for a moment, then told him what he could do with himself.
"Whatever you want, Kelsey. But I mean it. Tell the cops anything you think they ought to know. Then go home."
"This is my home as much as it's yours."
"'The hell it is. Your home now is a cute little condo in a ritzy section of Miami, with a gate and a security guard. Now go away."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" she asked. She didn't expect an answer, but he gave her one anyway.
"I'm the man telling you that you don't belong here anymore," he said. Especially not running around asking questions about Sheila.
"Like I said, Dane. This is my home just as much as it's yours. And I will find Sheila."
She started walking away again, taking a circuitous route past the tables. He was tempted to go after her, shake her, tell her to get her nose out of the entire thing. FedEx her back to Miami.
Except that he would wind up getting arrested if he tried that. He was certain that if he so much as put a hand on her, she would call the cops for sure.
So he watched as she walked away through the back door of the Sea Shanty. He had to convince her to go back to Miami and get her the hell out of this. How, he wasn't sure yet.
But he would. He swore to himself with a vengeance that he would get her out of here if it was the last thing he did.
When she was gone, he clenched his teeth and shook his head, suddenly glad the beer hadn't kicked in. He walked down the sand and shrub-covered path to the small spit of salt beach off the back of the Sea Shanty and just kept going until he was immersed. It was the quickest way he could think of to remove the drink she'd spilled on him. And the cool water was good for his head.
He'd wanted to behave completely normally after what had happened. But Kelsey arriving like a cyclone had changed all that.
Now the police were about to get involved, and sooner or later they would find Sheila Warren.
He had to find her first.
Kelsey walked into the right side of the duplex just off US 1 in absolute disgust. She threw her purse across the small living room, watched as it landed in a wicker chair, then indulged in a moment's delicious relief as the air-conditioning surrounded her. Sea breezes be damned. It was hot as hell outside.
Pausing by the door for a moment, she let out a breath of aggravation.
"Well, that went well," she said, murmuring wryly aloud to herself. Her fault, maybe. Okay, her fault definitely. She could have started out with a, Hi, Dane, how are you? Wow, it's been ages . . .
But he had looked like such a beach bum lying there. And Nate, the owner of the Sea Shanty who she was actually married to for a very brief time when they were young, had said he had been drinking all afternoon. And that he'd been seeing Sheila. That they had argued. And that Dane had been strange ever since he'd moved back down from St. Augustine. That he'd taken on a case up there and someone had died strangely and . . . Nate hadn't really known all the particulars because Dane hadn't wanted to talk about them. So something not great had happened, and he'd come home to drink himself to death. Sheila had told her, too, that Dane had been strange. Like a guy ready to throw his life away.
When they were kids, Dane had been like the Rock of Gibraltar. He and Joe had been the leaders of the pack. Even when she had wanted to run away from life and more than anything in the world from Dane, she had wanted things to go well for him. It had been upsetting to hear that he had fallen into being little more than a beach bum, with no care for the world, no ambition, no concern for anyone at all even old friends.
Sheila had been concerned about him.
But it seemed that Dane didn't give a damn about her.
Kelsey kicked off her shoes and walked into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator door, thanking God that she'd taken the time that morning to do a little shopping for herself. Juice, soda, beer and wine. She had a choice.
The heat she'd come from made her opt for a beer. She hesitated, her fingers curling around a bottle, remembering that she'd found Dane swilling the stuff. She moved her hand, choosing a bottle of cranberry-raspberry cocktail instead. No. She wanted a beer, and the fact that Dane had turned into a slug who drank the stuff lying on a lounge chair in the shade shouldn't keep her from what she wanted.
Why the hell had he made her so mad? Right from the get-go. Okay, she'd been disturbed from the minute she'd talked to Nate, maybe unreasonably angry with Dane before she'd even headed out to speak to him. Why?
Uh-uh, she argued with herself. She wasn't going to delve into the psychiatry of that one. She hadn't seen him in years. And still, today . . . damn, she'd blown it, that was all. She'd meant to talk to him, get information. Everyone knew he'd been seeing Sheila again. Maybe they hadn't become a twosome, the way they had been when they were young, but apparently they'd still been close. Even Larry Miller, another friend from the early days who she worked with and Sheila's ex, had apparently known that, because he'd mentioned something about Sheila saying she was seeing Dane again when Kelsey had told him she was heading to Key Largo for her vacation, to spend time with Sheila.
Nate had told her that Dane and Sheila argued the last time he'd seen her. Cindy Greeley, one of her and Sheila's best friends growing up, had told her the same.
She pulled out the Michelob, twisted off the cap, took a long swig and looked around the kitchen. "Sheila . . . am I crazy? Are you just being a careless and inconsiderate bitch, the way everyone seems to think? Where the hell are you?"
The air conditioner hummed in reply. No answer there. In the quiet of the early evening, the sound seemed absurdly loud.
She walked to the rear of the living room and opened the glass doors to the patio at the back of the duplex, separated by a small privacy wall from the neighboring side. Beyond stretched the standard-size pool that belonged to both occupants, surrounded by flowering plants and shrubs. The entire yard was surrounded by a rustic wood privacy fence. The backyard was beautiful and peaceful, the high point of the duplex. And actually, on the patio, she could feel a sweet, salt-touched breeze. She was startled to feel suddenly that it was good to be home. And it was still her home, no matter what anyone said especially Dane.
Not that she had gone so very far. Her section of Miami was only an hour to an hour and a half away, depending on traffic. But life there seemed as different as night and day, even if the temperatures in both places were almost identical and the same flowers bloomed. A short walk from this duplex could bring her to the Atlantic, and she could look straight out from her condo patio and see the waters of Biscayne Bay, heading into the Atlantic, as well. And still, this was so different. She had felt it today at the Sea Shanty, the small-town warmth, the laid-back ease, even with the place crawling with tourists and the main objective among most of the populace being to make money off those tourists. There were other people, as well, retirees, Northerners sick of the snow, and weekenders who had fallen in love with their weekends and made Key Largo their home. She'd always wanted to see more of the world, and she'd gotten to see a lot of it now. Maybe that was why it seemed so good to feel as if she had really come home.
Once upon a time, home had been the pretty white-painted wooden house south on US 1 on the ocean side of the island. No more. Her parents had sold the place years ago. They didn't come back here anymore. In fact, the house no longer existed; it had been tom down to make way for the tennis courts for one of the new hotels. It had bothered her deeply when she'd started driving around today, so much so that she wished she had told her parents she wanted the house when they offered it to her before moving to Orlando.
Too late now.
Like them, at the time she had just wanted to get out of Key Largo.
She knew, of course, that when she'd left, she'd been running away. There had been far too much of Joe here then, and she had needed a new environment. Time could do good things. Now she liked it because there was still a lot of Joe here. Just as she had liked seeing Nate at the Sea Shanty, feeling the sun and the breeze at the Tiki hut bar, knowing that a short walk in bare feet would bring her to the little patch of private beach.
The Sea Shanty was like a bastion of memory. Nate's dad had run it when they were kids. Now the place was Nate's. And when she walked in, she really had felt that sense of coming home, of memory, nostalgia and mostly good things. She had felt a sense of poignant pleasure, being there. But then she had spoken with Nate and mentioned how worried she was about Sheila. Nate had started talking, and then she had seen Dane Whitelaw, plastered and vegetating in the sun, sunglasses in place, beer at his side, the picture of total inertia.
Dane Whitelaw, of all people. Wasting his life. She'd seen it so many times. People who used this little corner of Eden to escape all responsibility, to drown themselves in beer and couch potato themselves into early graves.
Copyright (c) 2002 Heather Graham
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Being a Floridian I love to read Heather Graham. I've been to every Key, including Key West several times. I love, love, love Heather Graham's books and I can't wait for more to come out. Any book of Heather's is great for the beach, out on the boat, or even at home. (You just get more absorbed if you are on the beach or out on the boat, you feel like your really there.)
Great story and a surprtse ending i did not expect.
Mantala walked in the soking wet rain. The wolves were gone of course, and Mantala had been gone for two whole days. He had soon arrived in this desert like place and the hoof prints were gone. Mantala looked around, though the desert was totally abandoned. Mantala was hungry and he hadn't eaten in a while, though suddenly he heard some noises. "Hang them! Hang them! Hang them!" To the back of several inns, there was a gathering of people shouting and two people were in chains on a stand. "Please! Have mercy on us!" They both cried, but the soldiers paid them no heed. Mantala went through the crowds to see better, but suddenly somebody grabbed him. "Who are you, boy? Where is ya parents?" A soldier grabbed Mantala. "Let me go!" Mantala managed to get free from the laughing soldier and his friends who chased after him. Mantala kept on saying,"Excuse me! Sorry!" But the people just scowled at him and said," Learn your manners, boy!" The soldiers were close, but Mantala was already out of the crowds. "Get him!" The laughing soldier was no longer laughing. Mantala hid behind an inn but crashed into tons of tomatoes being carried by a fat man. "HEY!!!!!COME BACK HERE!" The man shook his fist. The soldiers were soon far behind, but soon, about five galloping soldiers headed toward Mantala, soldiers mounting on them, laughing. Uh-oh! Mantala had no chance of this. "Gotcha!" A bag was put over Mantala and then he couldn't see anything. "Take him to Gerimoy! Mudhoers and slaves are there! He's a little boy destined for work!" One of the soldiers laughed. Mantala punched the bag, making it fall to the ground, probably on top of a sharp rock. Pain went through Mantala's leg and then the soldiers burst into laughter. "Okay, okay! Take him to Gerimoy!" Then the horses galloped off. This wasn't what Mantala expected. He thought he could save Ezumalid, but this wasn't like an uncruel place. Mantala's leg was probably fractured because he couldn't move it and his stomach growled. One of the soldiers must have heard it, because one of them laughed, "Hungry? Don't worry! You'll get enough stale bread at Gerimoy!" Then the rest of the soldiers laughed. Ezumalid probably escaped making Mantala look like he was a failure. Really. He was a failure. When the galloping stopped, the soldiers threw the bag to the ground, making Mantala's fractured leg hurt even more than eve before. A man opened the bag a few minutes later and cried, "What...? Who?" Mantala told him everything and the man replied, "From what they hear of Gerimoy, it's actually a very good place. Come in. Now who is your friend?" "I can't walk..." Mantala cried. "Don't worry! We have spare crutches for you and probably it'll take months to heal...but you can't tra el with a fractured leg. I'm afraid you'll have to stay here for at least three months and come back to where you came from." Oh, no! Three months! Would Mantala ever see his friends again? The man looked at Mantala's disappointed expression and sighed, "Look. I know you really want to go back, but this injury is serious. You have just broke 4 bones in the leg, making the fracture worse than I've ever seen before. Tell you what. I'll give you a free horse with a guide when your leg has healed. Then you go back to your home, give the horse to the guide, and you're done!" Mantala thought about this. No slaves...luxuries...how about he give it a try? "No slaves. No hard work. No mudhoers. Stay with us," the man asked. Yes, Mantala thought.
A TENSE AND ELECTRIFYING READ! HEATHER GRAHAM KNOWS HOW TO KEEP THE SUSPENSE BUILDING. FROM THE OPENING TO THE STARTLING CONCLUSION, IT IS NON-STOP ACTION AND THRILLS. BRAVO MS. GRAHAM. THIS ONE HAS BESTSELLER WRITTEN ALL OVER IT! FORGET THE OTHER SUSPENSE THRILLERS. PICK UP THIS ONE!