The piercing ring of the cell phone lying on his nightstand didn’t bode well. There was no such thing as good news at three o’clock in the morning.
With a sigh, Rafe rolled over and grabbed the phone, scrubbed a hand over his face as he pressed it against his ear. “Brodie.”
“Police Chief Rosen here. We’ve got a problem, Rafe, and it’s not a good one. I need you to meet me down at the harbor. How soon can you get here?”
Rafe swung his long legs to the side of the bed and sat up. “Ten minutes. What’s this about, Chief?”
“It’s Scotty Ferris, Rafe. I’m afraid he’s dead. I’ll fill you in when you get here. I’ll be waiting on the dock next to the Scorpion.” The police chief hung up the phone.
For several long moments, Rafe just sat there. His chest felt tight. Scotty Ferris was twenty-four years old, a handsome, hard-working kid who was engaged to be married. His June wedding to Cassie Webster, one of the local girls, was only three weeks away. Cassie was going to be crushed.
Rafe swore softly. What the hell could have happened?
But in this rugged country where the climate, wild animals, or just bad judgment could get you killed, accidents happened all the time.
Shoving himself up from the bed, Rafe grabbed a pair of worn jeans off the chair and jerked them on, pulled a sweatshirt over his head, pulled on his heavy sox, and shoved his size-thirteen feet into a pair of high-topped, rubber-soled boots. Since the temperature at night even in late May was still in the thirties and it had rained during the night, he grabbed his jacket as he headed for the steps down to the garage.
The boat harbor wasn’t far from his house. Sea Scorpion was his flagship charter fishing boat, a thirty-eight-foot Mac, his pride and joy. It was the boat he usually captained himself, one of three that made up his fleet. Scotty Ferris was part of Scorpion’s crew.
Rafe thought of the young man as he parked his dark green Ford Expedition in a spot in front of the harbor, climbed out, and closed the door. Puddles from last night’s rain sloshed against his boots as he made his way toward the dock. The occasional street light burned into the darkness but quiet surrounded him, along with the familiar salty tang of the sea.
Rafe couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Which brought his thoughts full-circle to Scotty. With year-round residents numbering less that forty-five hundred, everyone knew everyone who lived there. And everyone knew and liked Scotty. The kid had been born in Valdez. He thrived on the rugged lifestyle, planned to marry and raise kids here, probably never would have left.
What the hell had happened? Rafe thought again as he walked toward his boat.
And why did Chief Rosen want to meet him at the Scorpion?
A few spaces down from where’d he parked, Rafe spotted a black-and-silver Ford police SUV. In the distance, the familiar antenna above the wheelhouse of the Scorpion marked where the boat bobbed near the middle of the dock.
Rafe started down the long wooden walkway, his gaze on the group of people gathered next to where the Scorpion was moored. The area was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape, the boat clearly off limits until the police were finished collecting evidence.
Police Chief Clifford Rosen, a stout man in his fifties, bald head ringed by thinning gray hair, stood next to a figure lying on the dock, covered by a long white cloth. Knowing Scotty Ferris lay under the cloth made Rafe’s stomach burn.
“What happened?” he asked the chief.
“Looks like he was robbed,” Rosen answered. “Wallet’s missing, jewelry’s gone. Car keys. Cell phone’s missing. Single blow to the back of the head. Blunt instrument. Baseball bat seems the most likely, something that size that was easy to handle.”
“I asked you to come down because I need someone to identify the body. With his parents both dead, I figured better you than his fiancée. Soon as you do that, I’ll break the news to the Webster girl.”
Rafe just nodded. Cassie was going to be devastated. She and Scotty were crazy in love, the kind Rafe figured had a good chance of lasting. Sometimes fate could be a real bastard.
One of the officers, a red-haired young cop Rafe recognized as Rusty Donovan, leaned down and lifted the edge of the sheet. As the cover rolled back, Rafe’s gaze fixed on Scotty. The boy’s brown eyes were open, staring sightlessly into the black night sky. His handsome face was frozen in a look of surprise.
He was wearing a jacket but it was unzipped, revealing a long-sleeved blue T-shirt that read FISHERMEN DO IT DEEPER. Rafe could almost see the grin on the kid’s face when he’d put it on.
“It’s him,” he said darkly. “Scott Ferris.”
“You know what he was doing down here?”
But once he got his head wrapped around Scotty’s death, he intended to find out.
The breakfast crowd at the Pelican Café had begun to arrive, as people did every morning when it opened at six A.M. The café had been started in the fifties and been going strong ever since. Of course it had passed through a dozen different owners, had its ups and downs, and been near financial ruin more than once.
Having purchased the restaurant six months ago, Olivia Chandler was the most recent person to step into the driver’s seat. Unlike the previous owner, who had let the place sink into disrepair, Olivia had been making changes, most of which had been heralded with great enthusiasm by the local customers.
“Well, look who’s coming,” Nell said. The buxom woman with salt-and-pepper hair helped her run the café. “If it isn’t Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome.”
Liv followed her gaze out the window to the man in jeans and a sweatshirt crossing the outside patio. The brick patio was empty now while it was still cold, but with summer approaching, soon would be noisy with people.
Katie walked past just then, heading for a table with a platter of bacon and eggs on the flat of her hand. “I just call him Mr. Freakin’ Hot.”
“Shame on you,” Liv teased. “You just turned twenty one. Rafe Brodie’s got to be at least a dozen years older.”
“Just means he’s a man not a boy. And I like a guy with a little experience.”
“From what I hear, he has plenty of that,” Liv said dryly as Katie sailed off to deliver the food.
Nell chuckled. “I’m fifty years old and that man can still make me swoon.”
Olivia busied herself wiping off the long Formica-topped counter as Rafe shoved through the door, ringing the bell above. Seating himself in his usual booth, he stretched his long legs out in front of him. Rafe was a regular in the café, which sat on North Harbor Road right across from the boat dock.
“Katie’s busy,” Nell said with a match-making glint in her eyes. “Why don’t you wait on him?”
Olivia shook her head. “I’m busy, too. You go ahead.”
Knowing there was no persuading her, Nell sighed. “Probably better you don’t. Everyone in town knows Rafe’s a dedicated bachelor.”
Dedicated bachelor or not, Nell and Katie were right. With the thick dark brown hair curling just over his collar, the faint shadow of beard that usually lined his hard jaw, and those hot, whiskey-brown eyes, he was one of the best-looking men Olivia had ever seen.
Which was exactly the reason she had avoided him since the day she had met him.
No use putting temptation in her path. It was simply too dangerous.
She watched as Nell chatted with him a moment, then the easy smile Nell usually gave him slipped from her face. The coffee pot wavered. Rafe grabbed the glass pot to keep her from dropping it and spilled hot coffee over his hand.
Olivia didn’t hesitate, just grabbed a towel, wet it with cold water, and hurried in Rafe’s direction. He was sitting down again, Nell fussing over him, relieved to see Olivia approaching.
“Here–wrap this around your fingers.” Liv handed him the wet towel. “It’s cold enough to ease the pain and keep the burn from getting worse.”
“I’m all right,” Rafe said. “It’s no big deal.” But he accepted the wet cloth and looped it over the back of a big suntanned hand.
The man was all of six-four, two-hundred-plus pounds, with a solid, athletic build and very wide shoulders. Liv was five-nine, but Rafe was more than half a head taller. She tried not to stare at his mouth, which seemed harder this morning, without the smile he always had for Nell.
She glanced in her friend’s direction, sucked in a breath as Nell’s pale blue eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, God, what is it?”
Nell blinked and the tears rolled down her cheeks. She wiped at the wetness with a trembling hand. “I could tell something was wrong. It was stamped all over Rafe’s face.”
Liv glanced from one of them to the other, saw the same grim expression on both of their faces. “Tell me what’s happened.”
Nell swallowed. “It’s…it’s Scotty. He was murdered last night.”
Liv glanced across the table at Rafe. His jaw looked iron-hard, his eyes so dark she could barely see a hint of gold. For the first time it occurred to her that Rafe was hurting, too. Scotty was his first mate and they were friends. Cassie had said Scott idolized Rafe, had thought of him as an older brother.
His dark eyes to her face. “Scott was a good man. One of the best. Whoever killed him is going to pay.”
A little shiver ran through her. It wasn’t a statement. It was a vow.
And Liv completely believed it.