Series Saturday: The Flight of Freedom Series

Three exotic locations. Three women who find themselves on the run. Three men who must save them before it’s too late.

The Flight of Freedom Series by Laura Thomas

The Flight of Freedom Series by Laura Thomas
The Glass Bottom Boat
The Lighthouse Baby
The Orphan Beach

Three exotic locations. Three women who find themselves on the run. Three men who must save them before it’s too late.

The Glass Bottom Boat (Flight of Freedom Book 1) by Laura Thomas

The Glass Bottom Boat book cover by Laura Thomas

Her worst nightmare lies in the depths below.

Surrounded by the romantic paradise of her sister’s destination wedding in Jamaica, Madison Grey must overcome her paralyzing fear of the ocean—and her broken heart—to start living again.

Luke Alexander, the groom’s brother, is a missionary who has come to terms with his single status—until he meets Madison.

When Madison mysteriously disappears and the newlyweds receive a ransom note, Luke dives into action to find her. Will he save Madison in time or will she be forced to suffer her worst nightmare… facing down the depths in a glass bottom boat?

Chapter 1

LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE same again. 

Madison’s gaze flitted across the table of the oceanside restaurant toward Chloe, her baby sister. The bride-to-be. She attempted a smile and tried to ignore the ominous churning in the pit of her stomach. On top of the massive change occurring in their family dynamics, Madison sensed someone watching her, even here. She shivered in spite of the balmy Caribbean heat, and familiar fear crept up her neck. 

“You okay, Madi?” Chloe’s concerned face came into focus, and Madison sat a little taller in her chair. 

“Sure, I’m fine. Just a little anxious, which is ludicrous, considering you’re the one getting married tomorrow. But that’s me—completely irrational and a nervous wreck.” Her laugh fell flat. 

Chloe clasped her big sister’s hand. “Everything will be great—you’ll see.” 

Madison breathed in the salty ocean air and concentrated on the sound of gentle waves lapping the shore right in front of them—soft, safe, rhythmic waves with no hint of danger. A gourmet dinner on a tropical beach shouldn’t feel this stressful. 

Why am I such a mess? Am I being paranoid? 

They were safe here with Chloe’s fiancé, Nathan, and his missionary brother, Luke. Of course, Chloe was matchmaking, hoping some whirlwind romance would occur between her and Luke, but it wasn’t going to happen. No way. That would take a miracle. 

Madison glanced around the beach. Other diners were enjoying the spectacular sunset in this picture-perfect outdoor restaurant, engrossed in intimate conversation and delicious cuisine. Some wandered hand in hand down the beach toward the wooden docks and a live band. Everything was fine. There was no logical reason for anyone to stalk her in Jamaica—come to think of it, even back in Seattle, there had been no cause for alarm in months. But prank phone calls and random stalkers left their mark, and the haunting memories crashed over her afresh. 

Deep breaths. I’m being ridiculous. I have to pull myself together for Chloe. 

Chloe giggled at something Nathan whispered in her ear. Madison smiled even though her heart twinged. Life was changing for them all. She picked up the half-empty glass and took a long sip of ice-cold water. Would her days be half-empty at home without her sister? The last couple of years, it had been just the two of them coming to terms with their parents’ tragic death. The Grey sisters survived together, doing their best to navigate the unfamiliar territory of inheritance issues, legal procedures, and taking over the family home throughout their season of grief. Such a nightmare. And now a new transition stared Madison in the face, forcing yet another major upheaval. 

Only, this time, it was a joyous occasion—her little sister was getting married right here in Jamaica. But was it so wrong to wish their straightforward, comfortable life in Seattle could stay the same forever? 

“So, how do you like the resort?” Nathan winked at Madison as he helped himself to a spoonful of his brother’s decadent dessert. “I think I found a little bit of paradise for my beautiful bride.” 

Madison took a bite of the chocolate bomb she selected from the dessert tray and sighed. Bittersweet chocolate collided with cool, creamy coconut, creating an explosion of bliss in her mouth. “It’s fabulous. I know I’ve only been here one day, but I’m smitten.” She took her time with every delectable mouthful and scraped the plate clean. 

Chloe pushed her half-eaten passion fruit cheesecake toward Nathan. “I can’t eat any more if I’m going to fit into my wedding dress tomorrow. It’s all yours.” She kissed his stubbly cheek and clung to his bulging bicep as if it were a life preserver. 

Madison shook her head. “Good grief, you two, anyone would think you’re on your honeymoon.” She grinned. “Wait. One more day and you will be.” 

Chloe wiggled her engagement ring, the diamonds dancing in the candlelight. “I can’t believe we’re here, sitting among palm trees the night before our wedding. Honestly, I was almost waiting for something to go wrong.” She reached over and patted Luke’s hand. “And with you here for Nathan, it couldn’t be more wonderful.” 

Madison followed Chloe’s gaze across the table to Nathan’s older brother. In the hazy orange light, she couldn’t help being drawn to the guy. Even though it was their first meeting, there was something special about him—like an aura of peace. How could he seem so confident and humble at the same time? 

Not that she was interested. Her broken heart remained off limits to anyone. Period. 

Luke was a missionary in Mexico—that much she knew. And from their brief visit so far, it appeared he had a genuine, vibrant faith. That was most likely the reason Chloe thought they were perfect for each other. 

Her eyes flitted from one brother to another. Yes, Luke was handsome, even more so than Nathan in a natural, rugged way. Where Nathan was stocky and blond and spent way too much time sculpting his physique at the gym, Luke was dark and lean, maybe a runner. The brothers did share their eye color, however—an extraordinary deep shade of green, exactly like the dazzling emerald in her mother’s engagement ring… 

“Have you ever been, Madison?” Luke’s rich voice broke into her thoughts. 

Madison’s cheeks heated. She had missed half a conversation while assessing those fathomless eyes. “Sorry. I didn’t hear you above the crash of the waves. Have I ever been where?” 

Chloe stifled a chuckle and shot her sister a mischievous look. 

She could quit her matchmaking right now. Madison reached one hand under the table and pinched through the silky fabric of Chloe’s dress before giving Luke her full attention. 

He hid a smile as he sipped from his water glass. “Mexico. I was wondering if you’d ever been? I guess I’m a bit obsessed with it.” 

“Just a bit.” Nathan licked his spoon clean. “Along with every other country he’s backpacked across.” 

“No, but I’d love to explore Mexico one day.” Madison leaned in. “It’s on my bucket list, especially as I love the Spanish language so much.” 

“Right, Nathan told me you teach Spanish. Maybe you could point out all the bad habits I’ve picked up by learning the language from kids instead of taking a class.” He grimaced. 

“I’m sure you have a better grasp of Spanish than I ever will. A true conversation is not the same as using it in a classroom with my less-than-enthusiastic high-school students.” 

“Your students love you.” Chloe turned to Luke. “This sister of mine gave up her dream of going to Spain so she could stay with me as I finished college after our parents died. Teaching Spanish at high school in Seattle isn’t quite what she had planned.” 

“I’m having a blast. Really I am. Some days are tough—I’m not going to lie—and I have to admit I was counting the days until summer break began yesterday. But I love my students, even if they’re not particularly enamored with learning a second language. And I’m sure one day I’ll visit Spain.” 

“Or perhaps Mexico?” Chloe winked. 

Madison’s cheeks burned. Again. 

“So, you enjoy traveling?” Luke’s green eyes sparkled. 

“Yes, it’s kind of a passion, I guess, although I haven’t ventured far from home these past couple of years.” Madison glanced at Chloe. “This is only the second time we’ve flown since Mom and Dad’s accident, isn’t it?” 

Chloe’s big blue eyes brimmed. “Yeah, I think it is. Other than Christmas in Hawaii last year, we’ve just taken road trips. I wish Mom and Dad were here with us now.” She smoothed the linen tablecloth in front of her. “They loved Jamaica.” 

Madison squeezed her sister’s hand. “It was their favorite place in the world. They would be so thrilled to know you were getting married here.” She looked at Nathan. “It’s very understanding of your family. Are your parents okay with it only being the four of us here for the ceremony?” 

Nathan folded his napkin and set it on the table. “Sure. They’re cool with it. I wasn’t interested in having a massive wedding, unless that was what Chloe wanted. But she roped Mom into helping with the reception in Seattle, so it’s all good.” 

Chloe took a sip of sparkling water. “Sylvia is such a sweetheart. And you know she doesn’t have any daughters of her own, so she was more than happy to organize our party at home.” 

Madison turned to Luke. “Are you flying to Seattle with us?” 

He leaned back in his chair. “I sure am. Believe it or not, I crave the rain and need a Seattle fix at least once a year.” 

“He’s weird.” Nathan punched his brother in the arm. “Loves any kind of water, whether it’s coming down from the heavens or in the lakes and oceans. I think he might be half fish.” 

A water lover? Deal breaker right there. 

Madison’s shoulders slumped. No way was she ever going to end up with someone who was “half fish”—not with her overwhelming fear of drowning. Yet another major frustration to add to the list of insecurities. 

Not that I’m remotely interested… 

Luke caught her eye and didn’t look away. He cocked his head and rubbed his chin. Surely, he couldn’t read her mind. Was she being that transparent? She plastered a smile on her face and cleared her throat. “I think I’ll stretch my legs and walk off some of that fantastic food.” 

She stood, pushed the chair out from the table, and slipped her leather purse over her shoulder. Wait. Where would she go? Along the shore all by herself? What if someone was watching her? She hadn’t thought this through. 

“Umm, Chloe, want to come for one last stroll as single sisters?” 

Chloe raised her eyebrows at Nathan, and he nodded. 

“Go ahead, girls. I have a feeling my brother wants to try to impart some older-sibling wisdom to me this evening anyway. Shall we meet up in half an hour or so in the lounge? I think the pianist is there right until midnight.” 

“Sounds lovely.” Chloe planted one last kiss on her fiancé’s cheek. “See you later.” 

Madison scanned the area for suspicious-looking stalkers and turned in the direction of the steel band playing farther down the beach. It looked relatively safe with a scattering of vacationers dancing and relaxing in cabanas. She linked arms with Chloe and compared her sister’s spray-tanned arm with her own. Even in the dimming light, she could see the contrast. “Wish I’d thought of a spray tan, too.” 

“You don’t need any help—you inherited Dad’s olive skin. I’m the one who naturally glows white.” 

“Hmm. I look peaky next to you right now.” 

“I thought your cheeks were quite pink back at the table with the guys.” 

Madison nudged her sister. “It’s glaringly obvious you’re trying to fix me up with Luke, but please don’t waste your time. You know I have absolutely no desire for my heart to be broken again anytime soon.” 

“Okay. My bad.” Chloe pretended to zip her lips shut. “But you look amazing, and Luke must have noticed, unless he’s blind. You always look stunning in red.” 

Madison looked down at the full-length dress her sister had picked out for her. “Thanks. I’m going to have to steal you away from Nathan for our shopping trips every once in a while.” 

“I think that can be arranged.” 

Madison slipped off her flip-flops and carried them, the sand silky beneath her feet. It felt like old times when they used to vacation as a family and she would spend hours having a heart-to-heart with Chloe as they strolled along the shore of a tropical beach. Sweet memories. But that was before. 

They passed the main dock holding a number of resort speedboats, which Madison chose to ignore. Deep breaths. Palm trees, yes, she would focus on the palm trees swaying in the balmy breeze. The band’s island music was behind them now and just a few couples strolled along the shore. But they should be safe. She had already checked and the hotel had security along this stretch of sand. 

Madison exhaled and let the sound of the waves wash over her, clearing the jumble of thoughts in her mind. Funny how something that held the power to paralyze her with fear also had such a calming effect on her soul. As long as her feet were firmly planted on dry ground. 

Chloe pulled her wavy blonde hair over one shoulder and broke the silence. “You’re doing so great. I know this can’t be easy for you after everything that happened with Sam.” 

Aware of a second smaller dock on her right, Madison watched her toes sink into the sand with each step. “It helps that you kept the wedding so low-key. We both know you could have put on a magnificent, gigantic celebration if you’d wanted to.” 

“Yeah, but that’s not really me. I’m twenty-one years old. I wanted simple and fun. When I told Nathan about Jamaica being Mom and Dad’s favorite place to visit, he was eager to have the ceremony here. He’s such a romantic. And this is perfect. Without Mom and Dad, it didn’t seem right to marry in Seattle. And after watching you plan a big wedding last year, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted anyway.” 

Madison winced. The pain of Sam’s betrayal was still fresh. 

Chloe sighed. “I’m sorry you had to go through that mess. But I’m serious. Look at you now.” 

Madison raised a brow. She must be doing a convincing job at cool, calm, and collected. Clearly, Chloe was oblivious to the skittish sideways glances, clammy palms, and out-of-control heart rate. “Let’s sit for a while, shall we?” 

After surveying the area, Madison faced the water and dropped down onto the sand, which was still warm from a day baking in the sun. She tucked the hem of her dress beneath her legs and noticed Chloe had followed suit. They both leaned forward with chins on their knees, taking in the magnificent Caribbean Sea and the final glimpse of a kaleidoscope of colors in the most breathtaking sunset. 

Madison lifted a handful of white sand and watched it flow through her fingers in a steady stream. Her life was like this, cascading through a giant hourglass, and she couldn’t do a single thing to slow it down. Or control it. Lord, I don’t know if I can keep up with all the changes. Please help me not to have a meltdown. Not here, not when my sister is so happy. 

“That’s strange.” Chloe pointed back at the second dock they had passed. “It looks like there’s a glass bottom boat tied up to that dock. Yes, it is. I can just about make out the sign on the side.” 

Madison shuddered. Boats of any description made her skin crawl. She averted her eyes and chose to concentrate on the silvery moon shimmering on the water. “Why’s that so strange?” 

“When I asked at the hotel earlier today, they said theirs wasn’t available. Something about it being away from the resort for repairs and that it would be out of action for at least several days.” 

Madison spun around, scanning the area. Her stomach clenched. Why does this feel so creepy? I have to get a grip, for Chloe’s sake. She forced a smile. “I guess they were wrong. But we already discussed this—please don’t ask me to come out on it with you. You know I would walk through fire for you, but don’t ask me to go on a boat, particularly one with a glass bottom. You do remember my nightmares, right?” 

“How could I forget? You told me every one in vivid detail.” Chloe put a hand on Madison’s bare shoulder and looked deeply into her eyes. “I hate that you’re still freaked out by the ocean. It’s been so long.” She bit her lip. 

“I know.” Madison pulled at her hair. “I thought I’d managed to put it behind me, but then it all came back with a vengeance after Mom and Dad’s accident. The thought of them going down in Dad’s plane into the lake…” 

Chloe’s eyes clouded with tears. The memories were still excruciating for them both. 

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be upsetting you on the night before your wedding. But I still have stuff to work through, including my fear of the ocean.” 

“Can’t you pray about it or something? You and God are pretty tight, right?” She arched a brow. 

Ouch. Did Chloe think she hadn’t prayed a thousand times about it? Her shoulders slumped. How could God ever use her for anything great? She couldn’t even handle her own insecurities. “Yeah, I know. Give me time. And tomorrow…I promise we’ll find a whole bunch of other fun stuff to do before the wedding in the afternoon, and then you’ll have Nathan to go boating with once you’re married.” 

Chloe wrapped her in a hug. “Don’t sweat it. I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to. And you’re right—tomorrow we have until the ceremony at four all to ourselves. But right now, I think we should make our way back to the guys, don’t you?” 

“Sure.” Madison stood and pulled Chloe up, too. She dusted the sand from the back of her dress and dropped one of her flip-flops. As she picked it up, she caught sight of the mysterious white boat, and her gaze lingered. Was that someone in the boat? She froze. A man’s silhouette. There was something hauntingly familiar about him. The figure stopped moving and melted into the encroaching darkness as if he sensed her attention. Madison couldn’t breathe. 

“Madi? Are you coming or what?” Chloe grabbed her hand. “Are you okay? You don’t look so great.” 

Madison blinked and pointed to the boat. “Do you see that? In the stern of the boat? I think someone’s there. He’s watching us—I’m sure of it.” She squeezed Chloe’s hand. 

“Where? Your eyesight must be better than mine because I can’t see anyone in there. But if there is, I’m certain it’s nothing to worry about—probably the owner checking stuff out or something.” 

“But he looked like—” Bile stung her throat. 

“Looked like what? Looked like a guy in a boat? It’s not exactly suspicious even if there is a guy out there.” Chloe planted a hand on her hip. 

“But it’s starting to get dark now. Don’t you find it suspicious that he doesn’t even have a flashlight?” She braved one more look at the boat. “He didn’t count on it being a near-full moon tonight, where he could be seen.” 

“Or maybe he was counting on a bright moon so didn’t bother with a flashlight. You are so overreacting. I’m sure there’s nobody in the boat, and even if there was someone, it’s no big deal. There’s a beach full of people close by. Relax.” 

Madison struggled to keep her breathing even as she glanced around again to make sure they weren’t being watched. Chloe had no idea how much Madison had sheltered her from most of the crackpots and sleazy guys who had stalked them after their parents’ death when news of their inheritance leaked out. She was also blissfully unaware of the fact that someone had followed Madison around after the disaster with Sam. She would continue to look after her little sister with every protective bone in her body, until she could rest easy that Nathan would take over the role. And even then, she would always be her watchful, somewhat paranoid big sister. 

Chloe threw back her shoulders and marched toward the wooden jetty. “I’m going to check it out to prove to you there’s nothing to get all freaked out about.” 

“No!” Madison barely recognized her own garbled scream as she rushed to grab Chloe. “Please, don’t go out there. I can’t let anything happen to you. Let’s leave it and get back to the guys. It’s nothing, and I’m overreacting and seeing things in the shadows, like you said. I’m sorry. Please don’t go—I can’t follow you. Not onto a boat.” And not if someone’s out there. Hot, silent tears coursed down her cheeks. 

“Whoa, calm down there, sis.” Chloe held her tight. “You’re getting hysterical on me. It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere near the boat. Come on now. Let’s go back to the lounge.” She grabbed a tissue from her clutch and offered it to Madison. “Dry those eyes and take a deep breath.” 

“I guess I let my imagination get the better of me. And now you’re the bossy big sister.” Madison dabbed at her eyes. “Better for me to be an emotional wreck tonight rather than at your wedding, though. But please tell me you’re not saying your vows on board a vessel?” 

Chloe smiled. “No, of course not. And like you’re not going to cry at the ceremony.” She linked her arm through Madison’s, and they walked back in the direction of the resort lounge, following the glow of lit tiki torches. “Look. There are plenty of people around, and we’re perfectly safe. Feel better?” 

“Yes. I’m fine now.” A bout of nausea churned Madison’s stomach, and her arms prickled. The shadow was no figment of her imagination. And the mere thought of the little white vessel bobbing against that dock made her shiver. What could be more frightening than being able to see down into the depths of the ocean? 

A glass bottom boat was most definitely her worst nightmare, with or without the creepy shadow of a man. And there was no way she was going anywhere near it. 

Ever. 

The Lighthouse Baby (Flight of Freedom book 2) by Laura Thomas

The Lighthouse Baby by Laura Thomas
Book Cover

Life on the run is all Bella King knows.

But after letting down her guard and opening her heart in a charming small town along the Oregon Coast, a chilling revelation forces her to make desperate decisions.

Local architect, Adam Lexington, longs to protect Bella and secure their future together, but he’s hiding a tragic secret of his own.

The draw of a lighthouse, the dream of a family, and the determination to unlock the shocking reality of Bella’s heartbreaking past leads them both into grave danger. Will the truth set Bella free before time runs out?

Chapter 1

RUN. 

Bella King’s heart clenched. What was I thinking? Overcome with panic, all logic fragmented like the grains of sand beneath her pounding feet, as she surrendered to her familiar motion of survival. Faster. A quick over-the-shoulder check confirmed a decent head start, and not a solitary soul to witness the chase. Maybe he would choose not to follow. 

He’ll come after me. Of course, he will. 

The ocean breeze lashed long strands of blonde hair across her face, her vision obscured through a blur of tears. Escape, run—it was the only thing she knew. Bella stifled sobs and pressed on. She couldn’t stop now, even as the evening sun blinded her and the sounds of crashing surf thrummed in her skull. Both feet sank, hopeless, with each step in the silky sand, until she discarded her sandals and sprinted freely across the wide stretch of desolate beach. 

Sand flicked, wind whipped. Salty air filled her nostrils as she sucked in each breath. Seagulls screamed overhead—a savage cry, as if they sensed despair. She found a decent stride and with the cadence of each footfall, she chanted, “No, no, no.” But deep down, her soul longed to stop running, just this once, and cry, “Yes!” 

Beach left in the dust, Bella continued her grueling sprint uphill to the only place she felt safe. She dared not glance behind again, that would be far too dangerous—looking back spelled disaster. Besides, even if she spotted his form outlined against the spectacular vista of great boulders rising like ancient tombstones from beneath the ocean, it would only slow her down. And derail her courage. 

Must keep moving. 

Her bare feet stung as they pounded a mix of gravel and dirt on the familiar path up from Cape Cove. Why hadn’t she thought this through? How far could she get without shoes? Far enough. Sea air mingled with whiffs of earthy, lush vegetation as coastal rainforest melded with beach. 

Blackberry bushes and brambles claimed their pound of flesh as she brushed against them. She bit her lip in an attempt to ignore the trickling sensation on her ankles. Her long, flowing skirt caught on a branch and Bella winced as the fabric tore. If only the skirt was the only thing ripped apart tonight. Why had he ruined everything? 

At this elevation, biting wind dried the wetness from her cheeks while perspiration trickled down her back. Feverishly hot and deathly cold. Her chest heaved as she mustered every ounce of strength for the final stretch up the steep hill. The familiar rhythmic crash of wave against rock—so like the constant barrage of fears preventing her life from ever changing—started to fade. She was close. 

Rounding a corner, the Cape Cove Bed and Breakfast caught her eye. The old lightkeeper’s cottage stood like a statement of all that was good and true back in the days of simple living on the Pacific Coast. The gleaming white siding and red roof welcomed visitors from far and near, its white picket fence and striped flag blustering in the wind screamed The American Dream. How many times had she sat on the bench and dreamed of a simple life? How naive. How foolish. 

Just a little farther. 

Taking the path used by lightkeepers of old, Bella ran on, the ocean slamming against rocks on her left, the sprawling woods silent on her right. 

Through watery eyes, her gaze fell upon her ultimate refuge, and she slowed her steps. Breath caught in her throat, as it always did when she reached this pinnacle and looked out upon a horizon that stretched to forever. 

Frantic found familiar. 

The lighthouse—her haven. Solid, stoic, still. 

Always bold as a saving bright symbol amidst monstrous darkness. 

On quivering legs, Bella continued to the far side of the structure, where she collapsed on a patch of prickly, dry grass. 

Will I ever stop running? 

She leaned back against the coolness of textured concrete and attempted to slow her hammering heart and laboring lungs. With desperate hands, she stretched out to either side and touched the lighthouse behind her. She was grounded. It was there. It was real. Not some outlandish nightmare. Her sanctuary of light. 

Breathe. Exhale. Pray. 

With only the old lighthouse to absorb her apology, she sighed. “I’m sorry.” 

Her whispered words caught in great gusts of wind. Nausea rose from the pit of her stomach and without warning, sobs took over. Great, uncontrollable cries that racked her petite frame without mercy. I’m going to break his heart. Hurt so deeply by others, now it was she, the lost soul with a tragic story, who inflicted anguish. 

She glanced around. At least there were no spectators to observe her mammoth meltdown. With the lighthouse tours done for the day, tourists would be enjoying a seafood dinner somewhere pleasant. Experiencing a regular life. A normal life. 

This charade she was forced to play was like a sick Ferris wheel—a sham. Get on, ride it for a while, enjoy the view, and pretend everything was peachy and prosaic, until it reached the bottom again only to be dragged through a tunnel of heartache and loneliness and fear… 

“Bella?” 

She swiped at her drenched cheeks and blew out a steady stream of air. This had been the hardest run yet. She cringed at the crunch of his footsteps as he rounded the lighthouse. Why did he have to follow? Bella bit her lip and buried her head in trembling hands. This could not be happening. She had always been so careful, protected herself all these years. How had she not seen this coming? 

“Bella?” 

She inhaled and gazed up at him—a blur of handsome and hurt. His eyes, those windows of love now misted with tears, pinned her to the lighthouse. There were no words. What could she say to take away his pain when he stood before her as a crushed man—his fingers clasped around a diamond ring? 

The Orphan Beach (Flight of Freedom book 3) by Laura Thomas

The Orphan Beach by Laura Thomas
Book Cover

Life is spiraling out of control for pediatric nurse, Juliet Farr.

Heart-broken, grief-stricken, and experiencing a crisis of faith—now she is the prime target for a crazed killer.

When detective Max Bennett returns to work his ex-girlfriend’s case on the Oregon Coast, he knows revealing the truth behind their breakup will destroy any possibility of a second chance together.

A manuscript, a maniac, and a mother’s love propel Juliet’s flight to a beach in Mexico as she desperately pursues hope and healing. Will she ever find freedom from the ache of abandonment? And when a troubled soul chooses Juliet as his perfect victim, can Max prove his love for her by risking his own life? Or will Orphan Beach be the end of their story?

Chapter 1

Juliet Farr dropped a single white rose onto the coffin, her entire body numb. Frozen. And not merely because she stood windswept on a rugged bluff overlooking the turbulent Pacific Ocean. She inhaled a ragged breath. 

How had life deteriorated beyond recognition in less than a year? Wrenching her eyes from the harsh reality before her, she gazed out over the gray-green expanse of water through a blur of tears. She shivered. Dead inside. 

Juliet stepped back and stumbled. A strong hand cupped her elbow from behind. Max. She’d recognize his aftershave anywhere, all musk and forest. His protective touch was another reminder of what she had lost. She pulled away. 

Not now. 

The bitter late-November wind whipped in from the ocean causing hair to obscure her vision as it flew in her face like a red tornado. She buried her chin in her mother’s scarf. It still smelled of lavender. 

“Juliet, would you like my coat?” 

Her body tensed at the warmth of his whisper in her ear. That deep, rich voice which she had missed more than she cared to admit over the past six months. Six months. What was he doing back here? Today of all days. She straightened her shoulders and jutted her chin without turning around. 

“No, I’m fine. Totally fine.” 

Liar. 

No way was she fine. Everything would be different now. Colorless. 

Time slowed as she clung onto each second of this dreadful day, not wanting the farewell to finish. Gentle murmurs hung on the frigid air. She glanced around. Only a handful of family friends hovered at the graveside now. How long had they even been standing here? Most had paid their respects and left already. Some had disappeared straight after the church service. But how could she leave her mother? 

Bella sniffled beside her. 

“What now?” Juliet held out her right hand, and Bella clutched it in silence. As friends, they had been through more than most. Could Bella sense Juliet’s heart fragmenting at this moment? Would she send Max on his way? 

Do I even want her to? 

Max squeezed Juliet’s arm with a feather-light touch and a fire ignited in her belly. Part desire, part distress. She spun around and watched as he paced toward the parking lot, head bent against the elements. Or perhaps bent in shame. His hair was a little shorter than she remembered. It looked good. She closed her eyes for a moment. 

“Want me to invite him back to The Lighthouse with us?” Bella’s voice was gentle. 

“No. I can’t deal with him.” Juliet turned back around and peered down at the lowered coffin. “Not today. It’s hard to breathe, let alone think clearly. Today is about Mom.” 

“That’s understandable. One day at a time.” 

“I seem to remember giving you the same advice not so long ago.” Juliet lifted her eyes to the deepening gray clouds, pregnant with rain. “It was one of Mom’s favorite sayings. She always had the best advice, didn’t she?” 

“The best.” Bella’s voice cracked. “I can’t believe Pippa’s gone.” 

“It feels like my entire life just crumbled. Like I’ve been abandoned.” Juliet sucked in a sob. “Like God doesn’t even care.” 

“Oh, Jules, He cares. More than we can ever imagine. You’re hurting—of course, you’re hurting. Pippa was your mother. But you know you have me, don’t you? You’re the sister I never had. There are lots of us who think of you as family, who love you. We’re all here for you.” 

Juliet looked over her shoulder, her long hair swirling around her head. “What about Max?” 

He stood next to his car—presumably a rental from the police station—arms folded across his chest and feet planted hip-width apart. His gaze roamed the cliffside area, but he was particularly fixated on the graveside gathering. On her. Warmth radiated from her cheeks. 

“What’s he even doing here all of a sudden, and why is he watching me like that?” 

“Perhaps he came to pay his respects. I’m sure he’s concerned about you.” 

Juliet shook her head. “After all this time? No. Something’s wrong. I know it.” A shiver ran down her spine as she angled her body to face him. “I’ve seen that serious detective look before. It’s the one he gets when circumstances are out of his control and trouble’s brewing.” 

She wiped her damp cheeks with chilly fingers and scanned the area. A few hikers made their way toward the trails, and her mom’s remaining friends headed to the parking lot. The graveyard was almost empty now. All appeared peaceful. 

“Maybe he’s working on a case.” 

“Here in Florence?” 

Bella grunted. “Stranger things have happened.” 

“True.” 

Bella had experienced more than her fair share of drama in their sleepy seaside town. 

“I simply don’t have the mental capacity to deal with anything else. Especially Max. I’m running on fumes as it is.” Juliet squinted. “But now I’m curious.” 

Bella put an arm around Juliet’s shoulders. “Try not to worry. It may be nothing.” 

“It’s something.” His body language was on full alert. Juliet sensed her own muscles tense in response. 

“Your teeth are chattering—let’s get you warm. Adam went ahead to get the jeep started up, and the others will be waiting at The Lighthouse. Do you think you’re ready to go?” 

Juliet nodded. Only the two of them were left on the clifftop. Surrounded by cold gravestones and the harsh sound of waves crashing behind them, the bleakness of her future hit her with force. She would go back to The Lighthouse for awhile, allow friends to offer comfort, but then she would have to go home alone. 

To a new chapter navigating grief and loss and loneliness. 

Bella shivered beside her. 

“I’m sorry to make you stay this long. You must be freezing, too.” 

Bella smiled. “I’ll stay as long as you need me. I know you don’t want to leave.” She tucked her chin deeper into her black, woolen scarf. 

“But I have to, don’t I?” 

“At some point, yes. But you can always come back and remember.” 

Juliet pressed a hand to her heart. She could do this. She would always have her memories… 

A familiar ringtone drifted on the wind from the direction of the parking lot, breaking Juliet’s moment of peace. Max’s phone. She watched as he answered and ran a hand through his hair. He pinched the bridge of his nose as he listened to whoever was on the line. Not a good sign. 

He pocketed his phone and strode over to where Adam was parked. They exchanged words and then Max turned on his heel and marched toward her with purpose. 

“What on earth?” She felt each heartbeat pound in her chest as she watched him. His face was etched with pain and something else… fear? Time slowed again as her feet anchored in place. She couldn’t have moved if she wanted to. 

“Juliet.” Max’s raised voice held an edge. “Juliet, we have to leave. Now.” 

He was warning her about something. But what? And why now? 

“You were right. Something’s wrong.” Bella gripped her hand tighter. 

Adam left his jeep running and jogged toward the graveside behind Max. 

Juliet released Bella’s hand and swivelled around. She peered back down at the solitary rose on the coffin. 

She wasn’t ready. 

No. 

A moment later, Max lay a hand on her shoulder from behind. “Juliet, I’m sorry, but we need to leave now.” His voice was gentle but firm. 

“We?” She studied the coffin in the ground. 

“I know this is hard and I was hoping not to intrude on your time here today.” 

“What?” She shrugged his hand away and faced him. “What are you talking about? Why do we need to go? I don’t want to leave yet…” She scanned the clifftop. “Is someone here?” 

“Please trust me.” 

Juliet balked. Why should she trust him now? 

“I realize you have no reason to trust me as a person, but as a detective, I’m trying to protect you. Let’s go. Please.” His eyes begged. Was he asking for more than her cooperation? Was he asking for her forgiveness? 

Adam grabbed Bella’s hand. “We should all leave.” 

“I’m coming, too.” Max surveyed the area. “I promise I’ll explain everything when we get to The Lighthouse, if that’s okay with you, Juliet.” 

She rubbed her eyes. “It seems I don’t have much choice. But I’m riding with Bella and Adam.” The thought of being alone with him in a vehicle was too much. 

Max sighed. “Sure. I’ll follow in my car. Now, let’s get out of here.” 

Juliet managed to put one foot in front of the other and kept pace with Max as they followed Bella and Adam. 

She turned back once. 

Goodbye, Mom.

Like what you’ve read? You can pick up the entire series in a box set in our Anaiah bookstore here!

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