This month I’ve giving you a sneak preview of Come Shell or High Water, book one in my new Haunted Shell Shop mystery series. The book, coming from Kensington, will be out in the summer. Here are the first two pages.
On the tail of a hurricane, half-drowned in the chaos of whirlwind, deluge, thunder, and lightning, I washed up on Ocracoke Island.
Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic. Hurricane Electra had blown through that week in mid-September but, as Atlantic hurricanes go, Electra was medium to mild. And I had arrived on Ocracoke, but I hadn’t washed ashore. I know a ranger in the U.S Park Service, and she took me over in her boat, that afternoon, when she went to survey damage to the National Park campground. I was half-drowned, but half-drowned by my assumptions, not the storm.
“Love the pink life jacket, Maureen,” Patricia had said over the gurgling engine noise of her boat before we set out from Hatteras Landing for the crossing to Ocracoke. Patricia Crowley and I have known each other since college, thirty-plus years. We don’t see each other often, but she always looks unruffled and in control when she’s in uniform. “The pink looks good with your white knuckles. We haven’t left the dock yet, though, so you might want to give your grip a rest.”
My hands, both of them glued to the edge of whatever you call the dashboard thing on a Park Service boat, looked fine to me. “This cabin’s kind of small—”
“It’s a pilot house.”
“—and we’re standing shoulder to shoulder in it,” I pointed out, “so if I get seasick, I’ll step outside.”
“No you won’t.”
Patricia also sounds unruffled and in control when she’s in uniform. Despite her calm, my knuckles and I did not relax. That’s why, by the time Patricia eased the boat away from the dock, my knuckles looked like bleached bones. I stopped looking at them and concentrated on not whimpering. Or being sick.
“It’s getting kind of rough,” I said in a conversational whimper.
“This is the smooth part. Wait’ll we hit the waves in the inlet.”
“Maybe we should turn back?”
“I’m doing you an unauthorized favor by taking you along,” Patricia said. Shouted, because the engine was making more noise. “Remember that, in case anyone has occasion to ask, because it isn’t regulation, but we’ll get around that by not saying anything or, if pressed, by saying that a lot of what happens before, during, and after a hurricane isn’t regulation.”
“I really appreciate this.”
“Good. You should. And I’ll appreciate it if you return the favor by not falling overboard and by hoping we don’t founder.”
“Sink.” She patted me on my drawn shoulders, and I thought about screaming “Don’t take your hands off the steering wheel,” but didn’t want to distract her, in case it wasn’t called a steering wheel. It didn’t strike me as the best time for nautical vocabulary lessons.