Whisper of Revenge (A Cape Trouble Novel Book 4)

BOOK: Whisper of Revenge (A Cape Trouble Novel Book 4)
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ISBN-10: 0-9976638-0-4

ISBN-13: 978-0-9976638-0-8

 

Whisper of Revenge

Copyright 2016 Janice Kay Johnson

All Rights Reserved

 

Cover Design by Seductive Designs

Image copyright: Couple © Novelstock.com

Image copyright: Stormy Sea © nejron (Andrejs Pidjass) /
Depositphotos.com

Image copyright: Hooded man:  © Rangizzz (Przemyslaw Koch) /
Depositphotos.com

 

 

This book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters,
locations and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been
used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales,
or events is entirely coincidental.

 

License Notes

 

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. 
The e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people.  If you would like
to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for
each recipient.  If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was
not purchased for your use only, then please return to an online retailer and
purchase your own copy.   Thank you for respecting the hard work of this
author. 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

He waited with outward patience while that old bat, Mrs.
Shoop, pondered her choices, nose almost to the glass of the confectionary
case.  The damn woman had the sharpest eyes of anybody in town, and could have
stood out on the sidewalk and seen what types of fudge were available today
instead of holding up other people.  Hell, she was probably taking her time in
hopes of overhearing some nugget of gossip while she dawdled.  Louella Shoop
was a notorious gossip.

To complete his irritation, she ended up buying two squares
of peanut butter fudge, just like always.  But, thank God, Hannah rang her up
and it was his turn.

Hannah Moss owned Sweet Ideas: Books ’n Fudge, a thriving
store even in a day when bookstores elsewhere were going out of business,
surrendering to online competition.  Hannah catered to locals, sure, but also
to tourists bored when their weekend on the Oregon Coast turned out to be
rainy.  Those folks who didn’t read much had a sweet tooth.

He wasn’t much of a reader, but he had made sure she would
never suspect.  He bought books regularly as well as fudge and, usually, a cup
of coffee to give himself an excuse to linger at one of the small tables and
watch her.

Today she greeted him with the wide, happy smile she saved
just for him.  He bought a square of Hannah’s special fudge as well as a new kind,
pineapple fudge.

“I’ll bet you made this,” he guessed.  She’d test any new
recipes, he felt confident, although she had hired a couple other women to make
many of the truffles and fudge she sold each day.

“Yes!  Be sure to tell me what you think about it.”

He glanced over his shoulder.  Nobody behind him.  He’d both
planned well and gotten lucky.  June in Cape Trouble was the beginning of the
busy season.  “Any chance you can take a break and join me for a cup of
coffee?”  He smiled.  “On me, of course.”

Hannah chuckled.  “I’m afraid not, but thank you.  Now, if
that’ll be all—”

“Maybe later?” he suggested.

Regret showed on her face.  “I’m sorry, but I don’t, well,
date, if that’s what you had in mind.”

Long practice gave him the ability to hide his frustration
and appear casually surprised.  “Really?  Why not?  You’re a beautiful woman,
Hannah.”

She blinked.  “Thank you.  But I have a son, you know.  The
business takes enough of my time away from him, and he’s more important to me
than anyone or anything.”

“I understand.”  A good mother; he approved.  “If you change
your mind, you let me know.”

The bell over the door on this side of the business
tinkled.  He ignored the newcomers, as did Hannah, who chuckled.

“If I change my mind, I’ll be completely lacking in
subtlety, I promise.  So lacking, I’ll be shameless.”

Good mood restored, he laughed.  “Seeing you shameless will
be worth the wait.”

He felt sure she was blushing when he handed over a twenty,
accepted his change, the cup of coffee and small bag of fudge.  By then, Hannah
was smiling at the newcomers, a family who must be out-of-towners.  Settling at
one of the café-style tables, he examined her smile carefully, satisfied to see
that it was merely polite.  He was confident in the outcome of his courtship. 
She was being cautious, that’s all.  As the mother of a young child, that was
sensible.  To his knowledge, she hadn’t once dated in the two and a half years
since she moved to Cape Trouble and opened her store.  He liked that about
her.  Burned by a bad marriage, she would be completely his.  The boy – well,
he’d have to wait and see.  Like a male creature in the wild, he didn’t like
the idea of leaving another man’s spawn to capture a large percentage of her
attention.  On the other hand, the boy’s father wasn’t in the picture at all,
as far as he could tell, which gave him the opportunity to play the hero.

No hurry to decide.

He took a bite of the pineapple fudge and suppressed a
grimace.  He’d choke it down, and be tactful.  He ran through possible
comments. 
Interesting, but not my favorite
.  Yes, that would work. 
Once he expressed his mild disapproval, he felt sure she’d ditch the recipe. 
She liked to please people, and especially him.

Even though she was waiting on someone else, she caught his
eye, favoring him with another smile.  She must guess that the gifts had been
from him.  The wait would be a short one, he thought, pleased.  Humoring her
now was a small price to pay for the woman of his dreams.

Annoyance brushed him because the necessity of earning a
living kept him away from her more than he’d like.  Once he solved his
financial difficulties, they’d be able to sell her little business and she
could stay at home.  Hannah would like that, and he wouldn’t have to see her
constantly catering to other men.  Especially—

A growl vibrated in his throat, although he didn’t give it
voice.

She would never again let Elias Burton into her shop when
she was alone.

Patience, he reminded himself.  He’d seen enough to know
that such relationship as Hannah and Elias had was businesslike, nothing he
needed to worry about.  She probably felt pressure to cater to him because he
was the town’s golden boy, as much as his demands for special treatment must
annoy her.

No, Hannah’s mind wasn’t on Elias.

While he waited for her full attention, he’d raise her
spirits by keeping the gifts coming.  And it would give him the greatest of
pleasure to watch over her, every possible minute.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The quality of a gift is entirely in the eye of the
receiver.  Hannah Moss dreaded seeing what her apparent secret admirer gave her
next.

Steering her ten-year-old Toyota Highlander into the alley
that ran behind her business, she let her foot lift from the gas pedal, the
hesitation involuntary.  Hannah’s heart fluttered unpleasantly at nothing more
than the idea there might be a new gift waiting on the back doorstep of her
business.  Romantic, hell; she was finding the whole thing creepy.  She’d spent
the past month eyeing every male customer and wondering if he was the one
sneaking around in the early morning to leave surprises for her.  If he’d just
ask her out, she could get it over with and say no.

There was only one man who tempted her, and he wouldn’t play
games like this.  Sad to say, he also wouldn’t be interested in her.

Reality sucked, but was better faced.

Sweet Ideas: Books ’n Fudge was located halfway down the
block.  The fog was so thick this morning, she couldn’t see that far.  As her
car crept forward, the garbage dumpsters loomed through the mist.  It would
probably thin and dissolve as the morning went on; this was June, after all. 
In the meantime, the effect was gloomy, increasing her unease.

It wasn’t unusual for her to be the first merchant here
mornings, but Hannah wished she hadn’t been today.  Which was stupid.  She was
weirded out because some guy was leaving her flowers and poetry and, absurdly,
candy.  All women should have it so rough.

But still her skin crawled when she spotted the small,
gift-wrapped box sitting on the top step, the pretty pastel paper and bow
standing out in the grey murk of dense fog and against the steel door.

She parked in her usual spot beside one of the dumpsters. 
After turning off the engine, Hannah sat without moving for a minute, her head
turning cautiously.  Nothing moved, not even the scrawny stray cat she’d been
feeding recently.  Uncomfortably aware someone might easily be lurking behind a
dumpster, she nerved herself to get out, opening the hatch door of her SUV so
she could access the trays of fudge and truffles she had already collected from
the two women who made many of the goodies she sold.  Then, key in hand, she
crossed the alley, picked up the gift and let herself into the short hall that
bisected the bathroom and her tiny office on one side and the storage room on
the other.

Hannah left the wrapped gift on a table in the bookstore
then went back to haul in the stock she needed to set out in glass display
cases before she could open.

Hannah leased two now-connected storefronts, and so had
separate entrances to the ‘sweets’ side and the larger bookstore proper.  She
had yet to turn either sign from Closed to Open when a rap on one of the doors
made her jump.  Her heart took a quick skip before she identified the man on
the other side of the glass.  Anxiety became anticipation.  She felt like a
teenage girl whose crush had actually said hi.

There weren’t many people she’d let in before opening, but
Elias Burton?  She didn’t hesitate.  A renowned artist who lived somewhere in
the foothills of the coast range above Cape Trouble, he frequently set out this
early to paint and sketch on the beach or in the woods of this wild stretch of
coast.  He must sometimes bring a cup of coffee from home, but an occasional
stop here had expanded to three or four days a week.  She would fill his travel
mug and, more rarely, he bought truffles – never fudge - to take with him.

“Damn fog,” he muttered as she let him in and locked the
door behind him.  He was dressed much as usual, in faded jeans, gray today,
scarred black boots and a black hoodie.  When the thermometer dipped, he’d add
a fleece or down vest.

“You’d be a poverty-stricken aspiring artist if it weren’t
for the fog,” she pointed out.

His grin turned a truly beautiful man into a devastating
one.  “You’re right.  Shouldn’t curse my trademark.”

Hannah chuckled, although it was a challenge to appear only
mildly amused when her knees wanted to cave.  It was a relief to step behind
the glass display counter, which offered some protection.

There wasn’t a woman alive who wouldn’t feel at least a
small tingle at the sight of this man, who could have made a fortune as a male
model if he’d been inclined.  She felt sure he’d be insulted at the idea.

Six foot plus, he was broad-shouldered but lean rather than
bulky.  Blond hair that he sometimes let get shaggy was currently cropped
short, accentuating the stark bone structure that made his face so striking,
along with a straight, thin nose, a very sexy mouth and pale gray eyes with the
glimmer of crystallized quartz.  Even his hands, long-fingered and tan, were
sexy.  She dreamed about how those hands would feel on her body.

“Just coffee today?” she asked.

“No, I might get—”  He had started to scan the mostly empty
case.  “You haven’t put out the truffles yet.”

“Do you need to inspect?” she said lightly.  “Ninety percent
of the time, you go for caramel with sea salt.”

This time, she’d swear only his eyes smiled.  “Ah, but sea
salt is another signature of mine.”

She laughed again, as she was meant to, and wondered if he
knew he was torturing her.  No, of course not – he must be well aware how women
saw him, but he was usually so reserved, he gave an impression of somberness
that made his relatively rare smiles startling.  He’d been coming into her
store for months, speaking no more than absolutely necessary, never lingering,
before one day he favored her with a faint smile that darn near stopped her
heart.  Blast the man.

“Caramel is good,” he said.  “Say, ten of them.”  His glance
strayed through the arched opening into the bookshop and stalled on the wrapped
present, incongruous where she’d left it among local guidebooks and history,
displayed with a bit of fishing net, a few shells and a glass float.  “Is it
your birthday?”

Something odd in his tone caught her attention.  It couldn’t
be…  Of course not.

“No.  It’s…um…”

An eyebrow lifted.  “A very late Valentine’s Day present?”

Reassured by his sardonic tone, she sighed.  “I seem to have
acquired a secret admirer.”

Elias turned a frowning look at her.  “How do you know, if
you haven’t opened this?”

“Because it’s not the first gift.  I’ve had flowers, a box
of aplets and cotlets and a CD.”

“What are aplets and cotlets?”

“They’re candy made from apples and apricots, by a company
in eastern Washington.”

“Do you like them?”  He sounded skeptical.

Hannah sighed.  “Yes.  When people ask me if I love
chocolate, I admit that my favorite goodies actually don’t have chocolate in them.”

“Anybody could have heard you mention these aplets and
cotlets.”

She nodded.

The frown deepened.  “What CD?”

“Michael Ball’s Songs of Love.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever heard of him.”

“He’s known for musical theater.  He does a heartrending
version of ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Elias kept frowning at her.  “You say ‘secret’ admirer.”

He was making her more nervous.  “Yes.”

“Have you talked about liking Michael Ball?”

Troubled, she said, “I…don’t know.  Maybe?”  She shivered. 
“Probably.”  She’d asked herself the same question plenty of times.  Her
favorite flowers were lilacs.  The deliciously fragrant bouquet had consisted
of lilacs mixed with sprays of Queen Anne’s lace.  What were the odds whoever
was giving her gifts would have randomly chosen music by a singer she happened
to love?

Elias nodded, looking as disturbed as she felt.  “Nobody has
taken credit?”

“No.”

His eyes seemed darker than usual.  “Are you flattered?”

Hannah wrinkled her nose.  “I feel awful saying this, when
the presents were so well-chosen, but…to tell you the truth, I’m finding it
unsettling.  Which is why I didn’t rip the latest one open.”

She thought he relaxed, but couldn’t be positive.  He only
nodded.  “Open it.  Let’s see what’s in it.”

“You must want to get going,” she said weakly.

“Hannah, this sounds more like stalking than some guy going
for it with you.  Have you told anyone about it?”

“Everyone saw the flowers.  They were beautiful and
fragrant, so I put them out.”

The lines in his forehead deepened.  “A month ago?  I
remember seeing them.  Did a florist deliver them?”

“No, the vase was sitting on my back doorstep when I arrived
in the morning, just like all the other presents have been.  Lilacs were just
coming in bloom, so I thought they might be from someone’s garden.”  Except the
arrangement had looked professional.

When she didn’t move, Elias went to get the latest gift
himself.  Once he set it on top of the counter between them next to the cash
register, Hannah had trouble looking away from the package.  Maybe it was the
paper, with lopsided red hearts against a pink background.  Those hearts were
just plain creepy.  Elias didn’t say anything or so much as move.  He only
waited until finally, reluctantly, she reached for it, tugging the pink and
white ribbon off before ripping.  Inside was a box, holding…a mug.  But not
just any mug.  Mouth dry, she lifted it out of the box and set it on the wood
counter.

“How…?” she whispered.

Moving fast, Elias circled to her side.  One of his hands
closed on her upper arm, as if he thought she might collapse.  “Hannah?  Are
you all right?”

“I…”  She tore her gaze from the vintage mug and met his
eyes.  “I had one just like this.”  Her voice cracked.  “When I was a teenager,
I had a crush on Han Solo.  Well, really Harrison Ford, but when he wore
knee-high boots and was way younger.”  She tried to smile.  “You know.”

“And?”

“My best friend gave me a mug with him on it. 
This
mug.”  Her voice had risen.  She probably sounded a little hysterical.  “I
loved that mug.  Ian thought it was so cool.”

Ian was her five-year-old son.  With the latest incarnation
of Star Wars appearing on lunch boxes, T-shirts and daypacks, he’d liked the
idea Mommy had something from the
first
Star Wars.

Elias nodded his understanding.  Ian came to work with her
sometimes, when daycare didn’t work out, and almost always on Saturdays and
Sundays.

“I broke it a couple weeks ago.  My hands were wet, it
slipped out of them into the sink and shattered.”  Even though Elias still held
her –touching her for the very first time – she was too unnerved to be as
self-conscious as she’d have otherwise been.  Instead, she looked back at the
mug.  Chewbacca stood behind a rakish, relaxed Han Solo.  “I was at home.  How
would anybody
know
?”

“Hey.”  Elias turned her to face him and searched her face. 
“Did you grumble to anybody?  Maybe here at work?”

She was breathing too fast.  God, what was wrong with her? 
This was a thoughtful gift.  Her secret admirer had to have searched to find an
identical replacement mug, maybe on eBay.  She’d thought of looking herself but
hadn’t gotten around to it.

“I don’t think so.”  She swallowed.  “I don’t know.  But
even if I did, there had to be a million different Star Wars mugs made.  How
would he know to buy
this one
?”  Her voice was rising again.

“Hey,” Elias said again.  Now both his big hands were on her
shoulders, gently squeezing and relaxing.  “Maybe you brought it with you one
day?  Or were sipping from it when you went out to get the newspaper at home,
stayed to chat with a neighbor?  Could be one of your customers stopped to say
hi, you talked for a minute.”

She didn’t remember anything like that, although…of course
it was possible.  And while she also didn’t remember bringing her mug to work
with her, she might have.  Why would that be memorable?  And, more to the
point, why would someone who saw her sip from her mug remember it well enough
to buy an exact copy, weeks or even months later?

Struggling for composure, Hannah went for a smile, when
really she wanted to lean on him and feel his arms close securely around her. 
Standing so near, she was able to see glint of gold stubble and a tiny scar on
his jaw she’d never noticed.

“Thank you.  I’m overreacting, aren’t I?”

His “probably” came slower than she liked.  He squeezed her
arms one last time before his hands dropped to his sides.  “Hannah, has anyone
asked you out recently?  Or…are you dating someone already who might be trying
to be romantic?”

“I’m not seeing anyone.”  No reason not to admit it.  “And
men ask me out once in a while, sure.”  Early on, she’d been flattered.  As
tall as a lot of men, her face freckled and her hair carrot orange, she’d never
had much draw before.  Eventually, of course, she figured out why she had
magically become a beacon.  “I mean, the pool of local, single women isn’t that
big.  Doesn’t Monica tell you the same thing?”

Except most men probably assumed, as Hannah did, that Monica
and Elias had a thing going.  A beautiful woman, Monica owned the Cape Trouble
gallery that featured Elias’s work.  He was in and out it often.

“Subject hasn’t come up.”  The unrevealing answer was
typical Elias.  His expression hadn’t changed at all.

“Nobody has been especially insistent,” she said.  “Most
invitations have been really casual or even half-kidding.”

“You know, if this bothers you, why don’t you give Daniel
Colburn a call?”

“The police chief?  What’s he going to do?  Run
fingerprints?  What are the odds my secret admirer has a criminal past?”

“He could ask around.”

“And wouldn’t that be humiliating to the poor guy trying to
impress me?”

“He should know he’s scaring you instead,” Elias said, voice
hard.  “But there’s probably no harm in waiting to see what happens.  It might
not have occurred to him that there’s an implication he’s watching you at home.”

BOOK: Whisper of Revenge (A Cape Trouble Novel Book 4)
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