Their tiny island is under a major threat…
With Category 2 Hurricane Ethel expected to make landfall on Gansett Island, residents are scrambling to prepare for a direct hit. Meanwhile, Piper Bennett is on her way back to the island to help Laura Lawry at the Sand & Surf Hotel and runs into her months-long crush, RI State Police Lt. Jack Downing, on the roughest ferry ride of her life. Sparks have been flying between the two of them for months. Will the storm help to move things along or will confessions from Jack’s past derail their fledgling romance?
Return to Gansett Island for a story full of twists, turns, romance and a couple of weddings! Make sure you read to the very end for an exciting announcement!
Readers can order HURRICANE AFTER DARK in audio and paperback from my store! The audio edition will be delivered by BookFunnel to the BookFunnel app.
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Hurricane After Dark
(Gansett Island Series, Book 26)
Only for Laura Lawry would Piper Bennett be on this ferry ride from hell. The crew had warned the passengers that the ride would be rough, and that it would be the last boat from the mainland to Gansett Island before they shut down service in anticipation of Hurricane Ethel.
Piper had received a text from Laura the night before, asking if there was any way she could come back to work a few days early because all three of Laura’s little ones were down with the flu, and her top helpers—her mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law—had gone to Italy, right when most of the summer help had returned to college. Clearly, we didn’t think this all the way through, Laura had said, including a grimace emoji. And now there’s a storm headed our way!
As she tried very hard not to puke up her breakfast, Piper was starting to think she should’ve listened to the crew and sat this one out. She’d never been on a boat in seas like these and would be happy to never do anything like this again. While she tried to psych herself out of getting sick, she thought of Laura, who’d been such a good friend to her from the first day she landed at the Sand & Surf Hotel on Gansett Island earlier in the summer.
That’d been one heck of a week. After her fiancé, Ben, decided to end their engagement, Piper had come to Gansett Island to take a break from the madness of canceling her wedding and looking at her mother’s crestfallen face. Since the wedding meltdown, Piper had decided her mom had loved Ben way more than she did. That’s something she’d realized with hindsight, when it occurred to her that she didn’t miss him the way she should have and maybe it was for the best that he’d put a stop to the whole thing.
Suddenly single for the first time in years, she’d gone a little wild during that first week on Gansett and gotten herself into a mess by going to a hotel room with a man she met at a bar. That turned out to be a huge mistake when he got aggressive with her, forcing her to flee from him and run back to the hotel, where Laura had been such a source of support as Piper reported the attempted sexual assault to the police.
That and the job Laura had subsequently given her at the hotel, along with the warm friendship they’d developed, were the main reasons why Piper was on this ferry ride from hell.
There was also the matter of a sexy state police officer who’d been “in the picture” on and off since the day they met, ironically when he and Gansett Island Police Chief Blaine Taylor had come to take her report.
Months later, her attacker had taken a plea deal and was serving a jail sentence, Piper was the assistant manager at the Sand & Surf, and she was still trying to figure out what, if anything, was happening with Jack Downing, the sexy state trooper. Other than some major flirting, not much had come of the attraction she felt zinging between them any time she saw him on the island. He’d been off-island more often than not lately, dealing with a big trial on the mainland, but supposedly, he was due back any time now. She was looking forward to seeing if anything would come of the flirting.
It was funny how she barely missed Ben, but she thought about Jack all the time. Other than an occasional text to say hello and what’s up, she wasn’t sure if Jack ever thought about her. She was giving it a month after she returned to the island from an end-of-summer visit to her family, and then would move on if nothing happened with Jack. Life was too short to sit around waiting for things that were going nowhere fast.
Piper was ready to date again, and Jack was the only guy she was interested in, but she was tired of wondering if he was into her or if he was just playing some sort of game by flirting with her any time they saw each other. If that was the case, she was out. Since Ben called off their wedding, she’d spent a lot of time focused inward, asking herself what she wanted—and what she didn’t want.
She kept coming back to the same thing—she wanted to spend more time on Gansett Island and have the chance to get to know Jack better. She felt ready to put the hard work she’d done on herself into a new relationship. If not with him, then with someone else.
As the ferry rocked and rolled, people were getting sick all around her. She prayed the smell wouldn’t reach her as she kept her head down and tried to focus on anything other than where she was and the sounds of retching.
A check of the time on her phone showed they still had forty minutes to go. She was never going to make it.
His voice sent shivers down her spine as she looked up to find her favorite state trooper standing in front of her, looking as happy to see her as she was to see him. That he was also in full uniform only made things worse. Or better. Depending on how she looked at it.
“I thought that was you,” he said. “Are you all right?”
How was he able to stand there like the boat wasn’t heaving and rolling under him? The state police uniform was gray with red trim. A brown strap crossed his chest and connected to a thick brown belt that held a variety of items. Knee-length pants were tucked into tall brown boots, and he held a tan hat under his arm. He had the number twenty-four in red on his chest and silver bars on his shoulders. She’d never been one to go goofy over a man in uniform, but this man in that uniform packed a wallop.
“I, uh, I’m trying not to puke.”
“It’s a rough one, for sure.” He gestured to the seat next to hers. “May I?”
As he took a seat, she hoped she could talk to him while trying not to vomit. That’d be a challenge.
“How’ve you been?” he asked.
“Pretty good until I made the mistake of getting on this boat.”
“They said it was going to be bad.”
“I know, but Laura needs me back at the hotel, so I decided to brave it. I’m wishing now that I hadn’t.”
“It’ll be over soon enough.”
“Not for thirty-eight more minutes.”
“You’re doing great. If you haven’t gotten sick yet, you’re probably good to go.”
“I hope so.” Puking in front of her sexy crush would be mortifying. “How’s the trial going?”
“Thankfully, it’s done. After weeks of testimony, the defendant took a plea deal that locks him up for the next twenty-five years. I would’ve liked for the sentence to have included no chance of parole, but at least now he’s in jail where he belongs.”
“You must be relieved to have it done.”
“I am. Living between the island and the mainland for the last nine months has been a pain. It’s funny,” he added with a chuckle. “When I first got assigned to Gansett, I was furious. I wanted nothing to do with a tiny, remote island in the middle of the ocean. But after a few months there, I was hooked, and now it feels like home. I’ve missed it.”
That was the most he’d ever said to her at one time. “I know what you mean. I came for a long weekend, and now I live there.”
“I’m not sure what it is about that island, but I love it, and I can’t wait to get back, although I could do without the looming storm.”
“What’s the latest on that?”
“It’s grown to a Cat 2, and it’s making a direct line for our favorite island.” Reading from his phone, he continued. “The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane warning for Gansett Island, the southern coast of Rhode Island, the Cape and Islands and are advising residents to prepare for a slow-moving storm bringing high winds, torrential rain and life-threatening storm surge. They’ve also recommended that Gansett Island residents evacuate, but I heard that most are staying put. That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Wow.” Piper was overwhelmed to hear the storm had gotten that bad. “I was probably crazy to come back with that coming for us, but I couldn’t leave Laura to deal with it all, especially since her kids are sick.”
“It’s good of you to do it.”
“I admit I didn’t take as close a look at the forecast as I probably should have. All I knew was there’s a hurricane coming. I didn’t know it was aiming right for Gansett.”
“It’ll be fine. We’ll batten down the hatches and then ride it out. Have you ever been to a hurricane party?”
“Well, now you have something to look forward to.”
Rhode Island State Police Lieutenant Jack Downing wished he had a dollar for every time he’d thought of Piper Bennett over the last few endless months spent mostly on the mainland, helping to convict a man who’d murdered his wife during an argument, leaving three young children without parents. Jack had been heavily involved in that investigation two years before he was assigned to Gansett, thus the back-and-forth in recent months.
With yet another scumbag successfully convicted and off to prison for decades, Jack could finally exhale and get back to the island he’d come to love. That still came as a surprise to him. He’d expected to go mad with boredom, but to his surprise, he’d been anything but bored.
The main reason he liked Gansett so much lately was the young woman sitting next to him on the ferry, who’d come into his life when she reported an assault at one of the island’s hotels. She’d stayed on his mind ever since. What he remembered most from the day he met her had been her strength and courage in reporting the attack. Her calm recitation of the facts to Gansett Island Police Chief Blaine Taylor had allowed them to quickly apprehend the man and charge him. The guy had since pleaded to a felony assault charge and was serving eighteen months at the state prison in Cranston.
It was a relief to have that taken care of so Piper could get on with her life without having to testify about the assault in court. He was glad she wouldn’t have to revisit that painful episode in such a public forum.
And maybe now that he was back on the island to stay, they could get on with pursuing the friendship-slash-flirtation dance they’d been engaged in for months now. Not that he was looking for anything serious, because he wasn’t. But he didn’t think she was either. She’d mentioned a bad breakup with a fiancé before she came to Gansett, but he didn’t know the details.
What did it matter? They’d enjoyed hanging out a few times, they had interesting conversations, and he was attracted to her, which was a big deal in and of itself. But who wouldn’t be attracted to her? She had shoulder-length brown hair with red highlights that looked like it might be curly if left to its own devices, light brown eyes and a dusting of freckles across her nose that were the cutest thing ever. But it was her smile that was the showstopper, at least for him. Whenever she directed that dazzling smile his way, he went a little stupid in the head.
Jack’s phone chimed with a text from Blaine. You coming back any time soon? We’re all hands on deck here right now. People are panicking about a direct hit.
He wrote back right away. On the boat now. I’ll report to the station when I arrive.
Great, thank you.
You got it.
The state police didn’t keep an office on the island. Rather, they used space provided by the town police department. Not only did Jack enjoy working with Blaine, but he considered him a close friend, too. He was looking forward to seeing him, as well as Blaine’s brother, Deacon, who was the harbor master, and the fire chief, Mason Johns, who’d also become friends. Jack was sure they were all exhausted from preparing for the storm, and he was ready to help.
But once the work was done, he’d be interested to know where Piper planned to hunker down for the storm.
“How much longer?” Piper asked as the ferry crested a particularly large wave.
Jack looked behind him to see where they were. “There’s the island now. About fifteen more minutes.” From a distance, the island reminded him of the mud pie dessert, with layers of water-darkened rocks at the bottom and a wall of sand that looked like coffee ice cream. He kept the reference to himself since he didn’t think Piper would appreciate him talking about ice cream when she was trying not to be sick.
“I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
“Hang on. I’ve got an idea.”
He stood, waited a second to get his legs under him and went to the concession stand to purchase a ginger ale. He also grabbed a packet of the oyster crackers that went with the clam chowder they sold. No one seemed interested in that today. “Try this,” he said to Piper when he returned with his offerings. “It might settle your stomach.”
“Thank you.” She took the drink and crackers from him. “That’s very nice of you.”
She opened the crackers and ate a couple, chasing them with the ginger ale. “Now let’s see if it’ll stay down.”
“I’ll await the verdict with bated breath.”
“Don’t make me laugh. It might make me lose control of the vomit.”
“We don’t want that. Take another sip of ginger ale. My mother swears by it as the cure for everything.”
“Are you close to your family?”
“Very. I’m the third of six kids. We were born within ten years, so we grew up tight.”
“Wow, six kids in ten years.”
“My dad jokes that they had six of us before they figured out where we were coming from.”
Piper’s laughter was infectious and made him smile. “You’re not making me laugh, remember?”
“That was funny, though. Do you have nieces and nephews?”
“Two of each, with another on the way.”
“That sounds fun,” she said wistfully.
“Do you have siblings?”
“Four—all older than me.”
“Did you grow up in Rhode Island?” he asked.
“Connecticut. Almost to the New York line. How about you?”
“Oh no. You’re a Red Sox fan, then. I knew there had to be something about you that I didn’t like.”
“Haha, yes, I am. Don’t ruin everything by telling me you’re a Yankees fan.”
“Did you just say ew?”
“I did. The Yankees are gross.”
“I can imagine it must seem that way looking up from the cellar the Sox have been sitting in the last few years.”
“That was rude.”
“Truth hurts, huh?”
“It really does. They’ve gone from best to worst in a few years.”
“So sorry for your troubles.”
“You’re not one bit sorry.”
She giggled, causing the strangest feeling of lightness in his chest. That’d happened before when she was around, which was one of the many reasons he’d thought of her so often while he was away.
“Is this going to be a deal breaker?” he asked.
“Did we have a deal?”
“I sort of hoped so.”
She gave him a side-eyed look and took another sip of the ginger ale. “Are you sticking around this time?”
“That’s the plan, but I have another question for you before we close the deal.”
“Giants or Jets?”
“Hmm, didn’t see that coming.”
“I like to keep you guessing.”
“Any other questions?”
“Just one,” he said.
“Will you hide from the mean old hurricane with me?”
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Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
~ Calvin Coolidge
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