It’s Monday! I’m unprepared, but I just put the coffee on, so I should feel more human in a bit. While I wait for the nectar of the gods to finish brewing, I thought I’d write up a little about SAFE FROM THE STORM (Bright’s Ferry #3), which I’ll have up for Pre-Sale sometime next month – date TBA. I have to admit, this book has been the thorn in my paw for quite some time – not because I don’t love it, because I really, really, really do, but because a) it’s probably been the toughest to write emotionally, and b) I started working on it just when family illness turned my life upside down, which is not a winning combination for getting a book done.
Suffice to say, there was a lot of starting and stopping. However, there’s been an unexpected benefit – plenty of time to think about it. One of the concerns I’ve always had is with Nora’s story, which includes a pretty horrific abuse situation, and trying to write it with care and delicacy has been tough. There are certain lines I still agonize over – is it the right approach? Is it too far? Is it too dark? Am I going to get hate mail?
There’s a great line in BULL DURHAM about playing the game with fear and arrogance, and I’ve always thought it applied nicely to writing as well. You just have to dive in and do your best, and it’ll all come out in the wash, or so the mixed metaphor goes.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom – Nora and Tony are incredibly hot together – he’s very much the moth and she’s very much the flame, and watching them dance around each other as the situation escalates is a lot of fun! The villain here is also someone I love to hate, so that’s been fun to chew on as well.
Hope you have a great Monday – scroll down for an excerpt from the first chapter – if you’re a regular reader here, you might remember it from way back when, but I thought it would be a nice place to start. There’ll be a brand new excerpt in July’s newsletter in a few weeks, so stay tuned for that!
TONY ARNETTO DIDN’T BELIEVE in ghosts.
Especially not when they came in the form of tall, curvy redheads who moved like heaven and were dead ringers for his wife. His dead wife.
“Hello…Sheriff,” said the vision in front of him, smiling hesitantly as she twisted her gloves between slender fingers.
Not a ghost, thought Tony, if only because Deputy Evie Asher was looking over her very corporeal form with cool, gray, somewhat suspicious eyes, and because the sound of her voice hit him like a body blow.
There was a frayed hole in the thumb of one purple glove, Tony noticed inanely, even as that voice washed over him. Nora’s voice, soft and sweet, that always made him think of bells when she laughed. The voice he’d heard in his dreams as memories of their life together refused to leave him alone, night after night for the last five years – her trembling vows at their tiny garden wedding, her gentle reprimands whenever he fucked up or worked too late, and the soft, sexy cries she made as she came for him again and again, unraveling in pleasure under his hands and mouth as she took him to the hilt.
Tony forced the air back into his lungs as the implications sank in, and with them came relief, amazement, and more rage than he had ever felt before in his life.
“I see you’ve met Evie. Evie Asher, this is Nora. She’s my wife.”
His voice sounded odd and far away, and there was a rushing in his ears as though he were underwater. His feet were glued to the spot, his fingers clutching the file folder with firefighter Matt Harris’ handwritten report closing the book on the arsonist that had recently terrorized Bright’s Ferry. He couldn’t have moved if someone had taken a two by four to his head. Outside, the rain had finally stopped, but Tony still heard the drip, drip, drip of the runoff from the drainage pipe to the window ledge.
“Can we talk?” asked Nora, her blue eyes wide and anxious.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Tony, the words tumbling out even before he realized they were absolutely true.
Nora had an explanation, no doubt, a reason that she’d disappeared and let him and everyone she knew think she was dead, a reason that she’d stayed away for five years. It was probably practical and well-thought-out and sane, like everything Nora did. With a pang, Tony recalled her neat little piles, her organized desk, and even the way he used to tease her over alphabetizing the spice rack in the kitchen.
He didn’t want to hear it.
He couldn’t hear it. Not now.
“Please, Tony – ”
She set her gloves down on the desk and withdrew a bundle of envelopes from her purse, neatly bound with a blue ribbon.
“I wrote to you. All these years. I wanted to tell you – but I couldn’t mail them. You have to let me explain, Tony.”
The word ripped out of him as the first fangs of pain ripped into his soul, took a big bite, and started chewing while the floor seemed to tilt. For years, all Tony Arnetto had wanted was a measure of peace – once he’d accepted that Nora had drowned on that fateful day when the Allen-A-Dale went down, once he’d realized that the woman he loved more than life was gone forever, he’d only wanted to be left alone, to forget. But it had never happened.
At first, it was Bright’s Ferry, the town he loved, the town he protected and cherished, whose townpeople trusted him to keep them safe. Everywhere he looked were reminders of Nora – in her kindergarten classroom, in all the neat little touches around the house, and in her closet, where her clothes still smelled like strawberries and Nora. Tony wasn’t too much of a man to admit he had cried like a baby when the scent finally faded. After a year, when he finally started to feel like he might be able to see a future someday beyond his mechanical wake, eat, work, sleep robot impression, that fucking lawyer showed up to reopen the wound, with his accusations and demands and shocking revelations that had made the last four years of his life hellish.
Nora held the letters out.
“If you read them, you’ll understand,” she whispered.
Tony made no move to take them, and Nora finally set them down on Evie’s desk. The defeat in her pose was a knife to the gut, but Tony could feel his hands trembling. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if she stepped closer, if her skin actually brushed his.
“I’m staying at the motel if you change your mind,” said Nora, and Tony frowned.
There was only one motel in Bright’s Ferry – a crumbling dive down by the marina. It was generally a stopover for passing merchants or fishermen who wanted a night on dry land with a willing woman, and far enough from the picturesque affluence of Main Street that it almost qualified as a “bad part of town,” if such a thing could exist in Bright’s Ferry.
Why is she staying there?
There were B&Bs galore in town, practically a new one every week. Dryer Morton, the richest man in town, fancied himself a real estate mogul and had no trouble treating Bright’s Ferry like his own private model town to be developed and arranged at will. Nora didn’t need to stay in some seedy motel where the walls were thin, the amenities nil, and the men who passed through somewhat questionable.
Not my business, Tony reminded himself.
“It’s good to see you, Tony,” said Nora, and turned to go, pulling her thin coat closer around her body, sorrow in every line of her lovely frame.
He watched the door close behind her, then pulled his keys out of his pocket and tossed them to Evie.
“Do me a favor? Send Zeke over to my place. There’s a blue file folder in the top drawer of my desk in the study.”
“Tony – ” began Evie, but he held up a hand, cutting her off.
“I need to check with the National Weather Service. If that storm gets any closer, we’re going to have our hands full.”
Hurricane Ripley had been making its way up the coast for two days now, keeping the entire Eastern seaboard in a constant state of anxiety. It was going to make landfall at some point – the question was whether it would hit Bright’s Ferry, or just spank them a little and head north. Tony and the rest of the town had been keeping a close eye on it, and Colin Daniels, Bright’s Ferry’s charismatic mayor and Evie Asher’s boyfriend, had already started disaster relief preparations in case the situation took a turn. Worst case, the town had been known to flood.
Thank God the Harvest Festival is over, thought Tony.
The annual celebration brought in tourists by the truckload, but now that they were past that and just a couple of weeks shy of Thanksgiving, tourist season was winding down. There would be a surge again around Christmas, and then Bright’s Ferrians would settle down for a long New England winter.
But first, they had to get through the storm, and Nora Allen would have to wait until Tony had finished dealing with keeping his town safe.
“She left her gloves,” said Evie abruptly, and Tony noticed the purple knit swatches lying on the desk.
He picked them up, still slightly warm from her hands, and emotion clogged his throat along with a desperation he hadn’t felt since the Harbor Master had come to tell him that the Allen-A-Dale had been lost in the storm.
The gloves dropped from his nerveless fingers.
“Be right back,” he managed, and bolted out the door.