Authors: Ann Roberts
Tags: #Crime, #Fiction, #Lgbt, #Mystery, #Romance
Copyright © 2013 by Ann Roberts
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published 2013
eBook released 2013
Editor: Medora MacDougall
Cover Designer: Linda Callaghan
ISBN 13: 978-1-59493-324-0
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Furthest from the Gate
Root of Passion
Beacon of Love
Keeping up Appearances
Ari Adams Mystery Series:
Paid in Full
I’m thankful to my editor, Medora MacDougall, for her keen knowledge of Chicago style, mastery of all grammatical rules I tend to break, and a wonderful ability to tighten my sentence structure and dialogue. It was helpful to have someone who was unfamiliar with the series remind me to put in details for new readers and avoid assumptions about characters.
Linda Hill continues to answer my emails and put me on the publishing schedule. I’m very grateful to her and all of the Bella staff.
Without the support of my partner Amy I wouldn’t ever finish a book. This last year has been especially difficult, and her continued love and patience were critical to this novel’s completion.
I am lucky to have family and friends who always ask about my writing and at the very least
to read my manuscripts or books: Susan, Morgen, Judith, Josh and Tiff, Patricia, Alexis, Debbie, and Sue.
Most of all, I am grateful to all of the readers who have faithfully and loyally followed Ari and Molly on their journey of love and discovery through four novels (assuming you’re about to read this one). I appreciate all of your emails and words of encouragement more than you could ever know.
Ann Roberts lives with her partner and their Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Phoenix, Arizona. Please visit her website at
The beach was Nina’s psychologist. While she spent her days as a social worker listening to children and adults divulge their secret sins and fears, it was the strip of sand at the edge of the continent that counseled her each night during her run. She often talked out loud, reviewing moments of her day, knowing the crashing waves muffled her voice as they built to a crescendo, claimed the shore and repeated the pattern.
She quickened her pace, the pure sea air purging her lungs of all she had withheld during the day. She’d lost track of the numerous times she had to swallow her words or stifle an angry comment she longed to hurl at the ignorant parents who weren’t meeting the needs of their children.
She glanced at the water and smiled. There was something incredibly comforting about the ocean resting over her shoulder as she cut a path parallel to Highway One, the most scenic drive in California. Laguna’s great beach, wonderful shops and chic restaurants were tourist magnets during the summer, but the season was long over and only the locals remained. She ran later in the evening after most of the other joggers had gone home, the welcome solitude a byproduct of her long hours as a school social worker.
“Bobby Arco is a complete asshole!” she shouted, thinking about the boyfriend of her favorite student’s mother. Michaela was the sweetest kid, and Nina had never understood how her mother Eden had hooked up with such a loser. He’d left her a threatening message that morning after being questioned by Family Services for another suspected incident of child abuse she’d reported the day before.
“Stay the hell away from my family,” he’d hissed into her voice mail.
Only after she’d deleted the message did she realize she probably should’ve saved it and played it for Evan, her assistant principal.
She saw the Montage Resort in the distance while her mind latched onto the other key moment in her day.
“Celia would definitely benefit from a support group. I’ll call her church’s outreach coordinator and see if there’s one here or in Laguna Niguel,” she murmured, recalling a teacher who’d spent her planning period crying in Nina’s office about the death of her brother.
She took a deep breath and cleared her head, determined to run as far as the resort before turning back, her legs limber and her muscles attuned to the effort. She was ready for the marathon in January but now…
It’s out of the question
, she thought.
Besides it was supposed to be something she and Sam did as a couple. They had motivated each other to train, and she would’ve given up after the first two kilometers without his support.
was the reason he’d left. He was sick of playing cheerleader. She could get down on herself, and he’d constantly said she was her own worst enemy. Often their conversations focused on her lack of self-esteem and ended with him delivering a rousing speech, the kind he would write for his father, the city councilman. Sam often joked she got his best stuff and his dad had to live with the verbal scraps.
Her mind drifted to Evan, who was her superior but also Sam’s twin brother. It was a bit awkward around him lately. Before the breakup she’d efficiently compartmentalized her personal and professional lives, telling herself the two relationships were unrelated.
“Yeah, right,” she mumbled, acknowledging he had become the most important person in her life, a true confidant. But she’d made it clear to him he was only a friend and wouldn’t be a rebound from his brother.
She took a sharp left and sprinted up the Crescent Point path to the gazebo that overlooked the Pacific, her ideal site for a wedding. It was 360 degrees of beauty, the Pacific Ocean and the San Joaquin Hills, embracing some of the most expensive real estate in the county. She wanted a wedding on the cliff and a house on one of the jutting plateaus that faced the water.
She’d need a much larger paycheck and a guy who wasn’t Sam. He’d made it clear the last time they spoke. “
Nina, it’s not going to work. It can’t.”
That part had hurt. He was the most important person in her life, but he couldn’t say the same. Clearly his family came first. She took a long swig from her water bottle and replaced it in the holster, grateful she had the entire point to herself. During the summer Crescent Point was packed. She re-tied her customary ponytail and wiped the sweat from her forehead. She’d worn the style forever and she didn’t care if anyone else thought it was childish.
Maybe that was part of the problem. She was a true creature of habit and lived by her patterns. If she found a way that worked for her, she never deviated from that route, but it meant she was highly predictable. Sam was the exact opposite. He was spontaneous. In the two years they’d been together, he’d never wanted to plan a vacation, insisting they just
It drove her crazy, but she’d been willing to compromise as had he. Perhaps there was still hope. They definitely needed to talk again. She owed him the truth.
She gazed up the hillside and for the millionth time wished for a beach house, a dream that would never become a reality if she remained in the public sector. Of course, if she joined First Point Medical
she’d inch closer to owning prime real estate.She still had another two days to make her decision. They’d wooed her with a great salary, the promise of an office with a window and her
secretary. That would be a real bonus—no more typing notes or reports. She would be the only social worker in a growing medical practice that wanted to expand its clientele to include family counseling. She
the job if she wanted it. Juan Bojorquez had made the offer last spring after she’d coaxed his fourteen-year-old daughter into a drug rehab program. She was improving and he was grateful.
She loved her job at Brayberry Elementary School working with kids like Michaela and helping their families, but she had to think about the future—a better paycheck and benefits. She wanted to get back together with Sam, but what if that didn’t work out? Still, would she like working in corporate America?
She closed her eyes and leaned over the railing, entranced by the show below. The powerful waves were no match for the side of the jagged cliff, and their continual confrontation resulted in a shower of foam dancing high into the air. She glanced at her watch, barely able to decipher the silver numbers in the darkness. The moon was only a sliver, affording her no extra help. She squinted and read eight thirty. The cold breeze blew off the Pacific; the chill reminded her it was November first, yet she wore only a tank top and running shorts—a definite benefit of living in Southern California.
She’d sprint back to her car and head home to the delicious salad, hummus and warm pita bread that awaited her. She’d write in her journal and weigh the pros and cons of the job offer.
A shadow moved on her right and she turned toward it, suddenly aware she wasn’t alone. Hands pressed into her shoulder and propelled her over the railing. In a flash it became too difficult to scream and save herself at the same time. She grabbed the space between and found purchase before her arms flew skyward and her feet were strangely above her head.
Then she screamed.
A persistent mourning dove woke Ari Adams from her inaugural sleep in her new home. She’d covered her head with the extra fluffy pillow, thrown a slipper at the small window above her bed and turned on a soft jazz radio station, which almost worked until an annoying commercial overtook the airwaves. She imagined if she got up and gazed at the tall branch, she’d see the pesky bird making faces at her.
“I give up.”
She threw back the covers and headed for the closet. Since she was dressed only in a T-shirt and boxers, the crisp November chill immediately gave her goose bumps, but she savored the feeling since it meant the end of the vicious summer heat. And the summer had been physically, mentally and financially vicious.
She stretched her arms and shook her head. She’d wanted a change, and Tina, her stylist for the past decade, had convinced her that a drastic haircut would be the ultimate symbol of her new life.
“Aren’t you tired of looking like Morticia?” Tina joked.
Ari knew she was kidding because they’d often discussed Ari’s Mediterranean features—oval face, regal nose, rich brown eyes and flowing black hair—and how well she could wear the long mane. But she agreed and ordered Tina to chop off nearly a foot, leaving her with a shoulder-length cut that required much more attention and time than she’d ever allocated to her morning preparation. It was a new look for a new life in a new house, yet it still felt like a part of her was missing.