Excerpt from Deadrise

Robbie Duncan paced the white tiles of the Somerset County Commissioner’s Station. She never expected to be back on Smith Island. It was a lifetime ago when she left. If it wasn’t for the fact the man standing before the district commissioner was her father, she’d have ignored his unexpected phone call at midnight.

But he was. And even though she hadn’t seen or heard from him in ten years, Terry Duncan, for all his shortcomings, still pulled at her heartstrings.

She should have written him off a long time ago. But tonight, standing there in a powder blue knit golf shirt, his glasses perched on his head, speckled from age and much sparser when it came to hair, he looked every bit his sixty-seven years.

The court clerk motioned for him to move to a side table. He pulled his glasses down to the tip of his nose, bent over to read and sign his release form.

She remained toward the back, close to the doors as the sheriff’s deputy led him to the property held window to collect his belongings. After checking the contents of his wallet, he shoved it into the back pocket of his gray pants, and slid on his gold wedding band.

Why he gave a damn about that ring was anyone’s guess. Lydia Duncan, Robbie’s mother, chose to disappear twenty-six years ago.

Desertion Robbie was used to.

She didn’t blame her father. Living on the only inhabited island in the Chesapeake, you either picked crabs or caught them. At a young age she had accepted her father’s livelihood. Crabs paid the mortgage on their small bungalow and put food in her mouth.

But dammit, this side action had nothing to do with earning a legitimate day’s pay, and it was the reason she’d disowned him eight years ago. And she wasn’t about to let it tarnish a reputation she’d worked years to achieve. Her employer didn’t know, and she intended to keep it that way.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Long time.” He smiled sheepishly and ambled toward her.

It would have been longer, but she bit her tongue and ignored his comment.

“I guess we missed the ferry?”

It was a rhetorical question. The ferry from Crisfield to Smith Island only ran twice a day, once at sunrise and then at sunset. Glancing at her watch, they had a two hour wait.

“You going back to the house?” A furry white brow arced over the frame of his glasses.

She debated on whether or not to turn her back on him once she paid his bail. He was free for now. But staring into the hopeful gleam of her father’s blue eyes maddened her to distraction. That was the one thing that made it impossible to deny she was Terry Duncan’s daughter—she inherited those piercing baby blues, making it difficult to say no. Regardless of what he had done, he was still her father.

She’d stay but only until she found him a lawyer.

Pinning him with her own blue eyes, she nudged her black oblong glasses back against her nose. “You still have it?”

She just assumed he’d lost the house. He was never good at managing the little bit of money he did have.

Terry Duncan always looked for the big payoff. That’s another reason he found himself behind bars tonight. Running numbers, in his mind, was more lucrative than crabbing. Never mind he was breaking the law.

“It’s too late to head back to D.C. I thought I’d see you to your door.” Robbie shrugged. “Any place open to eat this early?”

“I have food at the house.”

Shocking.

 “The ferry doesn’t leave until six.” She’d die of starvation by then.

“Griff said he’d give me…us a lift.”

Griff?

“I thought—”

“He’s back. Been back almost seven years.”

Now she wanted to hide. He was the last person she’d expect to run into. From what she remembered of the tough-guy persona of Griffin Nash, he couldn’t wait to shake the sand of Smith Island from his soles. Although, it intrigued her he’d returned, and it appeared, to her mortification, the girl next door was going to be reacquainted with the “bad boy” who thought he was every girl’s dream. Correction, he was, and he knew it, and that made him all the more irritating to her.

Roberta Duncan at fifteen, a freshman at Crisfield High was invisible to Griff. Overweight, an introvert, and the polar opposite of him, she actually wanted an education. He didn’t know she existed. But embarrassingly enough, she was very aware of him.

Which made it all the more uncomfortable when Terry Duncan hired him the summer of her junior year. Because Robbie did the books for her father, she was subject to seeing Griff on occasion when they came back from a haul. He’d wink at her on purpose when he’d enter the cramped office on the dock, his green eyes agleam. The smile forming on his firm lips made her look away, the flush of embarrassment warm against her cheeks.

Basically, Griffin Nash was a self-absorbed jerk. He was all about having a good time. His three favorite pastimes included partying, womanizing, and carousing the thin ribbon of asphalt that wound its way through Ewell on a motorcycle he’d bought at a junk yard. Having a knack for mechanics, he fixed it up enough to ride. Since there weren’t many motorized vehicles on the island, the advent of the bike made Griff even more desirable to the opposite sex.

That bike took him away from the island the day he graduated with no plans for the future and no higher education than the twelfth grade. Which made her wonder, what had the tall, broad-shouldered teen, sculpted like one of Michelangelo’s statues, made of himself.

“Skip.”

Robbie cringed. She recognized his voice. Griff called her father Skip. Short for skipper since working her father’s dead rise crab boat named Lydia.

Terry Duncan never thought of renaming the boat, either.

“Griff.” Terry raised his hand and waved him over.

Robbie stiffened. She needed to relax. She wasn’t fifteen and enamored by a boy who enjoyed making her feel less than adequate. If anything, Griff Nash should mean nothing to the confident woman she had become. Besides, what could he possibly have accomplished in the eleven years since she’d seen him?

Robbie took a breath, pushed back her glasses, and turned.

There was no way.

His jet black hair, usually worn long past his collar was cut short and tight around his ears. But it wasn’t the hair that had her straining for purchase on the tile floor of the commissioner’s station. It was the tan uniform shirt, meticulously pressed, that hugged his muscled shoulders.

Robbie stared at his expansive chest and in particular the brass name plate that read “Nash” in black capital letters. She knew rank structure, and she knew what the gold bars affixed to his collar meant and the absurdity shocked her speechless.

Griff walked toward them, a black stripe along each side of his olive green pants, a sharp press line running down front and center of each muscled leg.

“Robbie?” he asked tentatively, a grin forming on those firm lips she remembered so well.

Robbie swallowed. “Y…yes.”

God. Help save me from myself.

His grin now a full-fledged smile, he said, “You look great.” Those sharp green eyes took her in from the top of her dark hair that she wore tied back in a lose slip knot at the nape of her neck to the tip of her black pumps.

If he was looking for that chubby fifteen-year-old he was out of luck. She ran five miles a day and lifted weights. In her line of work she couldn’t afford otherwise.

“Thanks.”

The heat of his intense gaze stung her cheeks. He watched her closely and then put out his hand, which she didn’t expect. She flinched before reciprocating the gesture.

His hand was dry and firm, the warmth of his skin making her a tad uneasy. “I appreciate you bailing out Skip,” he said and glanced toward her father momentarily before turning back to her. He frowned. “I’ve warned him about the company he keeps.”

That was ironic, Griffin Nash warning her father to stay out of trouble.

“He…he didn’t tell me you were a trooper.”

“Princess Anne Barrack Commander,” Skip piped in.

Thanks, Dad.

What was it about Griff Nash that irked Robbie? Maybe it wasn’t so much he was to die for gorgeous. Maybe it was because all those years ago it seemed her father took more of an interest in Griff than her. Just the way he announced his title. Did he ever think to brag a little about his daughter’s accomplishments since leaving the island?

Robbie nodded toward his collar ornaments. “Lieutenant Nash. You’ve been busy.”

He shrugged and whispered, “I just know how to work the system.”

Now that she could believe.

“Lieutenant.” Another trooper, slick-sleeved, came through the door of the commissioner’s station with a man in custody. “Got one to see the commissioner. And Grable’s doing the breathalyzer at the Barrack.”

Griff looked over his shoulder. “I’m heading out. If you need me call my cell.”

“Yes sir.”

Robbie stepped forward, preparing to leave with just her father. “We can see you’re busy. You don’t need to…”

“I’m already heading that way. It’s not a problem. My cruiser’s parked outside.”

Robbie followed the olive and black Maryland State Police cruiser and the two dark heads above the headrest in front of her the twenty or so miles to the Crisfield dock. She wouldn’t let it bother her that her father chose to ride with Griff. Her father was like a child in many ways. So being inside a cruiser with all its police gadgetry was probably a thrill. Robbie rolled her eyes.

Robbie locked her Honda, parked next to Griff’s police cruiser. He’d directed her to park next to it, explaining no one would tamper with it.

A shroud of clouds made the moon elusive. The darkness was something she needed to become accustomed to, unlike her condo in D.C. off Dupont Circle, which was well lit by street lights. Skip and Griff headed down the small pier where a Department of Natural Resources patrol boat was docked. From what she understood, for now, the boat was a spare, and Griff had authority to use it to get himself to and from for work.

Robbie disassembled her GPS, peered in the back window and checked the backseat for anything valuable. She wanted to believe she was immune to theft, but she was a pragmatist. She grabbed the door handle one last time, making sure her car was locked, and stepped back to the rear of her Honda and popped the trunk.

Something told her Skip Duncan would get the best of her, and she was grateful she’d packed a bag.

The thought of spending one night in the small house she grew up in put her on edge. It only reminded her how truly lonely she had been. She had long since stopped blaming herself for her mother’s departure in her life, but the pain of worthlessness still nudged at her. Robbie removed a small, but bulging black travel bag and placed the strap over her shoulder when a warm hand pressed into her lower back, the weight against her shoulder being lifted off.

“I’ve got it.” Griff slung it onto his shoulder. He nodded to her shoes. “You might want to take them off. The boards have a lot of gaps.”

She peered down at her black Gucci pumps and then took a step back, meeting him stare for stare. “Okay? I appreciate the warning, but I can handle it.”

There was no way in hell she was walking barefoot. If he meant to reduce her to a sniveling girly girl, he’d misjudged her quiet demeanor. Robbie reached up to his wide shoulder and slid the bag off and back onto hers. “Nash. I’m good.” She shut the trunk and motioned for him to lead the way.

“You’re sure?”

Dammit, he was laughing at her, maybe not with his mouth, but definitely with his eyes.

“I’m sure.” She motioned again for him to precede her, but he held his ground.

Okay. Ladies first.

The weathered boards creaked with every step. With Griff behind her, the pier became a tightrope and the quicker she got off of it, the less scrutiny she’d be under.

Water slick as oil splashed against the moorings below where a dark twin outboard was moored. Her father, already seated at the center console behind the wheel, leaned over the back of the seat. “Robbie, come on, girl. I’m starving.”

That was her line, and she was moving just as fast as her high-heeled pumps allowed. The added attention only infuriated her. She picked up the pace and then stopped, completely immobile. Crap! She pulled her foot up from its heel lodged tight between the boards of the pier. But the heel remained rooted, causing her and her heavy overnight bag to list to the right. She didn’t even want to hear, I told you so.

Not from Griff.

“You shouldn’t have come, bright eyes,” Griff whispered against her ear.

Robbie’s stomach did a flip. He had called her that once before, and she bit down on her lip. The weight of her bag slid off her shoulder, and strong arms lifted her from her shoes into his arms. “My—”

“I’ve got them,” he said, and with minimal effort leaned down allowing her bottom to rest against his thighs he yanked her shoes free.

Griff handed her off to her father who steadied her once her bare feet hit the cold metal of the boat deck.

“Got her,” Skip called out.

Griff untied the moorings and hopped in, dropping her shoes to the deck, the metal echoing hollow against the pitch of night.

“I’ll turn her about,” Skip called out as the boat purred to life and jutted forward when he hit the throttle.

Robbie jerked suddenly, and the gray decking of the boat grew closer. A strong hand gripped her arm.

“Find a seat,” Griff ordered.

No…really? What did he think she was trying to do? Try and fall on her ass.

But rather than make a case for his domineering attitude, she grabbed the closest bench and sat, her back pressed against the side of the boat. The icy spray of the bay dotted her face. Shoeless, she sat, her toenails painted in L’oreal’s Pink Fusion Coral, and she curled them under. Her once tidy hair pulled at the knot against her nape, escaping into flyaway wisps.

Griff and her father stood at the console talking. Their conversation left to her imagination. The twin motors, located directly behind her, revved at high speeds, drowning out their words.

She could handle this. But first she needed her shoes. Somehow being barefoot made her inadequate. Those feelings she’d suppressed for so long came screaming back, and she closed her ears and refused to listen. Spying her black pumps bumping along the deck, she inched forward off the bench. They were too far to snatch with her feet. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been on a boat, but the motion unnerved her. Standing was the last thing she should do. But they were so close.

Robbie concentrated. She took several deep breaths and pushed up to a standing position. The boat hit the water hard, and she hit the bench full-force with her bottom and grimaced when the pain shot up her spine.

Griff glanced over his shoulder, followed her line of sight, and smiled. He patted her father on the shoulder, said something that made Skip laugh, and she felt warm with embarrassment.

He grabbed her pumps and started toward her. Robbie wanted to abandon ship. He sat next to her and handed over her shoes. “I meant what I said.”

The pressure of his service weapon poked her hip, a reminder things had changed since she’d been gone.

Robbie slipped her shoes on and pushed away from his warm thigh pressed up against her leg. She eyed him speculatively. “He called me.” She glanced at Skip.

With the motors running top speed, Skip enjoyed opening up on the bay. She was sure he couldn’t hear their conversation. But still, this wasn’t discreet. They were yelling to compete with the rumble of the motors in the back of the boat. Surprisingly, her father’s attention was drawn dead ahead, which made sense, the obstacles at night in the bay could get you killed if you weren’t paying attention.

Griff nodded toward Skip. “He told me. But Skip doesn’t always think things through.”

Like she didn’t know that, but there was something in her father’s voice when he’d called that Robbie couldn’t ignore. “I’m here now. He needs a lawyer.”

“I’ll get him one.” He moved closer and bent his head toward her. “Robbie, these guys play for keeps. Having you around is only going to make things worse for him.”

Robbie gripped the bench. “Don’t tell me my job.”

“Are you here officially?”

The truth was no. They didn’t know she was here. She didn’t want them to know. “He needs protective custody.”

“Answer the question.”

She leveled her gaze on him. Of course, level for Griff had her craning her head up in an uncomfortable position. “Not officially.”

He stood. “I’m turning this boat around. You’re going home.”

She grabbed his arm. “I’ll pull rank on you. This is federal.”

“You making it official, Special Agent Duncan?”

“Damn right.”