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Book 2 in the Serenity Cove Series
Tangerine Morning
Rita Garcia

Chapter One



Jezzica pushed her red polished toes into the warm grains of sand, allowing the shimmering rays to bathe her face. Trying to forget the horrors of the past and bask in the hope of better times—not quite—revenge intercepted hope and flung it like a Frisbee tossed among the waves. Determined, she pushed off the mat, refusing to tolerate her uninvited inner voice taking her down that well-trodden path.

Her towel flapped in the breeze as she shook off the sand. At the sound of her name, she used her book to shade her eyes and spotted Detective Zack Johnston, wishing he’d go away—no such luck. He’d recently joined the Serenity Cove Police Department. In charge of the detective division.

Zack trudged through the sand, smiling as he approached her. “Nice day to catch some rays.” It was apparent he appreciated more than the sun.

She tied a sarong over her black one-piece that left little to the imagination. “What brings you here today?” It sure wasn’t detective work. 

A mischievous smile sparkled in his eyes. “I rented the Wilson’s cottage. Appears we’re neighbors.”

“But Audra and Steve are living there?” She cringed. There would be no avoiding him now.

“They moved into their new home.”

 “Welcome to the shore.” Her gaze held his longer than she’d intended. Without thinking, she placed her hand on her stomach to still the butterflies—the first time she’d reacted to the nearness of a man since her husband’s death. She stepped back, unwilling to betray her guarded memories.

Glancing toward her cottage, she was surprised at the sight of Catylen kicking off her flip-flops and traipsing toward her. “If you’ll excuse me, my sister’s here.” 

“See you around—neighbor.” 

“Yeah, see you around.” She watched his pace morph into an easy jog.

“Wow. That’s one gorgeous male specimen.” Her sister had a penchant for declaring the obvious as though an obscure fact.

“I’m not interested in dating, and definitely not a detective.” Her smirk revealed her irritation. “Suppose Mom sent you.” 

“Who said anything about dating? The family’s concerned about you.”

“Where’re Mike and the girls?” She untwisted her sarong. 

Catylen took a visible deep breath, her grimaced expression filled with anxiety. “The girls are still at college. They’ll be on summer break soon. Mike ….” Her words stopped like she’d thrown on the brakes and swerved to avoid an animal in the road. Jezzica knew her sister well—she didn’t push.

From a distance, the sisters could have been mistaken for twins, even though Catylen was older by eight years and one month. Their chocolate velvet hair pulled back, and oversized sunglasses covered more than their brown eyes, the same rich brown as their hair. To most observers, the sisters were simply enjoying a delicious summer day. The hurt well hidden, they walked in silence toward the cottage. 

The seaside home held many magical memories of childhood summers. Set in a row of similar houses, it bore the telltale wrinkles of age. The blue, once giving it a presence as it overlooked the crashing waves, had weathered to gray—the white strips bordering the windowpanes aged to a softer gray. Curiously, the gray on gray gave the cottage a soft ambience, as though nature held an opinion about the way it should look—now proven right by the passing of years.

Jezzica climbed the wooden steps and paused to remove her shoes. Catylen mimicked the habit learned early in their childhood, once again kicking off the sandals she had reclaimed before clambering up the stairs. 

“There’s a jar of raspberry sun tea on the deck. I’m going to shower off this sunblock.” Jezzica didn’t linger for an answer. She needed the refuge of warm water to drown out the painful longing for a place of solace. The spray mixed with her tears as she clutched her hands to the tiled wall to remain upright. Sobs escaped she never even knew existed before cold steel in a stranger’s hand altered her destiny. “God, why? Why Geoff? Why in such a brutal way?” The temperature of the water grew tepid. She wrapped a towel around her soaked, unwashed hair and grabbed a robe intending to go downstairs. In the bedroom, she burrowed under the covers and succumbed to the sweet embrace of sleep.

The whine of the door forced her awake. “Hey, lady, wake up.” Catylen moved near the bed.

Jezzica blinked at the shadows casting an amber glow on the bedroom walls. “Seriously? I slept away the afternoon?” She covered her mouth, stifling a yawn.

“Try afternoon and night. It’s morning.” Catylen chuckled. “Get up. I’ll make breakfast.” She softly closed the door behind her. 

Dressed, Jezzica followed the aroma of fresh brew mixed with the sweetness of maple syrup. “I need caffeine.” She sloshed coffee into a mug and settled on a cushioned chair at the table. “I didn’t intend to desert you yesterday. Knowing you’re here helped me rest.”  No doubt Caty’s being there brought her comfort. But sleep had come on the heels of pure exhaustion.

Catylen served a plate of fluffy pancakes to her sister. Barely putting her bottom in the chair across from her—she sprung up, retrieving the mug she’d left on the counter. “It might help you to get out. I mean, other than days on the shore, lost in the view.”

“I know Mom’s worried. Serenity Cove is merely a summer place to her.” She took a bite—the sweetness of maple caressed her taste buds. “Yum. You inherited Mom’s cooking gene.”

“You intend to live here?” She filled her mouth and blotted a drop of stickiness off her chin. “Either I’m hungry, or these are really good.” Catylen sipped coffee over the rim of her mug.

Jezzica plopped her plate in the sink and refilled her colorful Fiesta mug. “I sold the house in April Springs.” She held her breath, waiting for her sister’s retort.

Catylen sat up, wide-eyed, as though unconvinced she understood her sister’s language. “You sold your house? You supervised every minuscule detail of that house. You drove the builder crazy.” 

“I tried to stay there. I wanted to keep Geoff close. It only kept the wounds oozing like festering sores.” She pulled the band from her hair, letting it tumble down her back. “I hope the new owners fill the house with children and laughter. That’s what I’d envisioned for our home.” She’d designed a matching playhouse in the backyard. The house had represented her hopes and dreams for a family—before destiny intervened.

Her sister went to the sink and began rinsing dishes. “I worry about you, here alone with only morbid thoughts for company. “It’s not like that. Yesterday … there are days I descend into a dark abyss, and yeah, it’s difficult to climb out.” 

She scooted her chair back and handed her empty cup to Catylen. “I’d like to show you something. I’ve been avoiding the arguments once the family finds out.” Her parents liked to share their life experiences. They hadn’t understood sometimes people, even your children, had to find their own way.

Catylen wiped the counter and dried her hands, leaving the towel folded next to the sink. “Sounds mysterious. What is it?”

Jezzica slung her denim bag over her shoulder. “Come with me. I’ll show you.”

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