Secret Seed

Corsair's Cove Orchard Series Book 2

Book Cover: Secret Seed
Part of the Corsair's Cove series:
  • Secret Seed
Editions:ePub
ISBN: 978-1-7750279-0-4
Kindle
ISBN: B07F37HSDY

Haunted by the past, hunted in the present

Haley Struthers crashes her car just outside of Corsair’s Cove. She’s not the only victim of the wreck, but she’s the sole witness who can identify the hit-and-run driver—if only she could be sure of her memories. Did she really glimpse her ex at the wheel?

A reluctant psychic, Sam Wilson knows all about seeing things. He left the ghost-ridden Cove long ago, but he’s back to try his luck in an antique auto rally. Why take the risk? He desperately needs the prize money. But the same crash wrecks his antique car—his dreams—and critically injures his best friend. The moment he suspects Haley knows something about it, Sam is determined to get answers—even if that means making her his rally partner and hitting the road in a haunted 1926 Packard.

But nothing is ever simple in Corsair’s Cove. Sam is dragged into a deadly—and occasionally ghostly—drama that upends his footloose life. And then there’s Haley, who wants to put down roots as deeply as Sam yearns for the open road. Rationally, they’re two opposites who should never be together. Yet while Sam believes in the impossible, it takes Haley to make him want it...

Excerpt:

Chapter One

 

It was him. Haley was sure of it—or had been, when she’d caught a glimpse of his face in her rear view mirror. The baseball cap and sunglasses might fool a mere acquaintance, but not her. Haley Struthers and Dr. Peter Vale, Ph.D., were—or had been—an item. She’d know those pale, cool features anywhere.

She’d stepped on the gas to get away and, for now at least, it had worked. Maybe. His expensive rental was still a few lengths back and dogging her with the patience of a wolf. He’d belittled her, threatened and even pushed her a few times, but she’d never felt hunted quite like this.

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Haley gunned the motor of her ancient Honda Civic and changed lanes, sliding between two semi-trailers. She glanced in the rear-view mirror but this time could only see the grill of the truck behind her, shiny slats like the teeth of a chrome dinosaur. For a moment she felt protected, but it wouldn’t last. Peter didn’t like to lose his possessions.

He’d begun as her mentor and quickly moved into the role of romantic partner. From there, he’d seemed to spread like a choking vine, taking all the air and light for himself. By the time she’d realized what hid beneath his wit and charm, it had been too late.

So she’d run. Her friends, Siena and Joe, lived in the small coastal town of Corsair’s Cove, which was the perfect place to hide for a while. Haley had been there before to visit a heritage apple orchard—preserving old varieties of fruiting trees was Haley’s academic specialty. She’d wanted to return to conduct additional research, anyway. Even better, Joe had family in the Cove and had offered her a place to stay. Visiting the couple for a working holiday was the perfect excuse.

She shouldn’t need an excuse, and yet somehow she felt better with a cover story. No one ever looked at Peter, the polished academic, and saw the crazy.

Or at least, she hadn’t.

Haley loosened her grip on the steering wheel, shaking one hand at a time until the blood returned to her fingers. She’d left her apartment at ten o’clock that morning, picking a time when Peter should have been teaching a botany class at Pacific Cedars State University. She’d driven non-stop the long way around the peninsula, skipping the shortcut by ferry just in case she ran into someone she knew. A clean getaway was better than a fast one. The only person who knew about her visit was Siena.

And yet somehow Peter had found out, because that was him in the sleek gray sedan. Had he really thought changing cars would provide some kind of disguise? That she wouldn’t recognize his signature style? He’d rented a Lincoln MKZ, no doubt because he liked the best of everything.

And he never let anything go. Nuts but true, she could feel him watching her from behind those tinted windows. Haley’s stomach was so tense it began to hurt.

A road sign flashed by, telling her she needed the next exit. She waited as long as she could before moving into the right lane and signaling to turn. Behind her, Peter followed suit. Haley cursed under her breath, but followed the loop of road until it deposited her onto a secondary highway. A pickup turned as well, forcing Peter to the back of the line.

The countryside changed, going from gas stations and warehouse outlets to farmland and cedar forest. The first touch of frost had come to Washington State, scattering gold through the leaves. Haley had to concentrate as the road narrowed and curved, offering glimpses of the coast in the distance. There were two vehicles ahead of her—a cherry-red classic convertible with fins and the other a truck loaded with manure. Haley switched off the air conditioning to keep the stink outside.

Two miles passed, the monotony filled with the drone of tires on pavement. Haley was too nervous to turn on music, although she could have used someone to talk to. Anxiety gathered in her chest, making her breath come quick and shallow. She hadn’t planned carefully enough. Tentatively, she touched her cheekbone where the doorjamb had left a bruise. Last night’s scuffle had been the last straw.

The road narrowed again until it was no more than two lanes separated by a single line. The pickup turned down a country lane, leaving nothing between her Honda and Peter’s Lincoln. Haley crossed the center line and pulled ahead of the manure truck, leaving Peter to experience the full force of the stink. She slid behind the convertible and its lone male driver, who seemed to be grooving on the sunshine and singing along to the radio. Another sign flashed. Corsair’s Cove was only a few miles away. She would be able to see it just over this hill.

Predictably, Peter wouldn’t stay behind. Barely half a minute later, he pulled into the left lane and charged ahead, no doubt planning to cut in front of her. She heard the thrum of his motor to her left as he raced up the steep incline. The sound seemed full of menace, bringing the bitter taste of fear to the back of her tongue.

Haley got to the crest of the hill a split second before Peter. Shock jolted through her and she leaned on the horn, reacting almost before she understood what she saw. A panel van sped up the other side of the hill, right in the Lincoln’s path. It swerved, but that took it straight into the convertible. Haley slammed on her brakes, aware of the red car slewing as metal crunched. The Honda bounced off the convertible, then ricocheted as the manure truck clipped her back bumper. She lost control of the steering wheel as the Civic skittered sideways into the wrong lane. She squeezed her eyes closed, screaming in terror until the car spun to a stop.

When Haley dared to look, she saw at once her car faced the wrong way. The smell of gasoline and hot tires was choking. Her vision blurred a moment, pain and vertigo a confusing fog. Gingerly, she raised a hand to her throbbing head and discovered blood. Her forehead had smacked into the steering wheel—the Honda was too old to have airbags. Then her breath hitched as she tried to inhale. It felt as if her whole body was broken.

Slowly she looked around, aware she was a sitting duck for any more oncoming traffic. Then again, there were pieces of the red car all over the highway—surely someone would see that. Or the panel van toppled sideways into the ditch. Only the manure truck had managed to pull over and the driver was standing beside it, a phone to his ear. His load spread across the road like a dark tide. There was no sign of Peter or his fancy car.

Haley fumbled with her seatbelt, but it was stuck and her chest burned with pain. Defeated, she sank back into her seat, too bruised to sob even though tears streamed down her face.

Alone and hurting, she passed out.

#

 

“I never thought I’d see you in Corsair’s Cove again,” said Eloise Wilson as she picked at the cookie crumbs on her plate.

Sam’s gaze settled on his sister. She’d chosen the gingerbread cookie with big crystals of sugar on top. It was the same treat she’d always picked when she’d been five. Had two decades actually passed since then?

Eloise was a few years younger than Sam, red-haired and elfin while he had their father’s dark hair and aquiline features. No one would guess they were siblings just by looking, and they were rarely seen together. In fact, it had been years since the two of them had enjoyed a decent conversation, much less a normal visit. All families had issues, but theirs were extra-special by anyone’s measure. Now they sat in the upstairs bay window of the Zephyr’s Rest Inn, the space just big enough for a tiny table and two chairs. The stage was set, but Sam wasn’t sure of his lines.

“Sorry I didn’t make it out in the spring,” he said, sipping his mug of black coffee. No cookie for Sam—he wasn’t into sweet things. “I got busy.”

“Yeah?” His sister’s bright green eyes were apprehensive, as if afraid he might vanish into mist. “Are you sure there aren’t other reasons for staying away?”

Sam sighed inwardly. He loved Eloise, really he did, but she had to talk everything to death. “What do you want me to say?”

“The truth?”

“I’m telling you the truth. I had a repair job on a ’68 Thunderbird, extra cash if I got it done fast. Truth was, I would have paid the guy to let me work on it. That car was special.”

“There are always more cars, but I’m your only sister.”

He raised his head but instead of meeting Eloise’s eyes, he looked behind her. From his seat in the window, he could see down the long hallway with its double row of guest room doors. The wallpaper was old-fashioned and each door was dark paneled wood with a glass knob. The glass shades on the lights looked as if they were left from the original gas fittings. This place was nearly as old as the town. Sam would have stayed someplace more modern, but rooms were hard to come by in tourist season.

So here he was at the Zephyr. Even in daytime there wasn’t much light in the upstairs of the inn. Nothing dispelled the shadows that clung to old places like this. That alone made his skin creep, but sometimes—like now—there was more.

The young woman stood halfway down the dim corridor. She wore a sleeveless dress and a hat that almost hid her bobbed hair. When was that fashion from? The 1920s? 1930s? Sam wasn’t a clothes guy but he’d learned some history the hard way—like when it was lurking under the bed, ready to yell, “boo!”

The woman saw him looking and waved gloved fingers. Sam looked away, finding sudden interest in his coffee cup. It was never good when the ghosts knew he could see them. They always wanted help with unfinished business—as if being a psychic automatically made him a customer service desk for the dead.

Eloise turned her head to follow his line of sight. “Who were you looking at?”

“What are you talking about?”

Eloise frowned at him. “Corsair’s Cove has more ghosts per square foot than anywhere I’ve ever been. This inn has six I’ve been able to identify.”

And that was what made them siblings. Other families went for picnics or took cooking classes together. The Wilson kids saw ghosts. The big difference between them was that Eloise had always owned her gifts, however much that cost her. He was the exact opposite, which was why he avoided this town like the plague.

“Six hauntings, huh? I think I’ll be sleeping in my car.” Sam grinned to hide his thundering heart.

“It was Marigold, wasn’t it?” Eloise raised one brow. “A flapper girl? She likes pretty young men.”

Sam pushed his empty cup away. “That’s the last thing I need.”

“You never know.” Eloise licked sugar from her fingers.

“I don’t think so.”

He folded his arms and looked out the window. It had been years since he’d been in Corsair’s Cove, but the street below was as familiar as his own childhood. There was the chocolate shop where Great Aunt Ruby had ruled like a benevolent empress. There was the tiny bookstore, Donahue’s Bakery, and then the jumble of souvenir shops, chandlers, and fishmongers. A few of the shop signs had changed, but not much else. He had good memories of his early years—right up until he got old enough to start seeing the dearly departed. Thankfully, their family had moved away not long after. And then last year Eloise, for reasons he still didn’t understand, had moved back.

A long moment passed before he realized their conversation had dwindled to nothing. They hadn’t seen each other for so long, it was hard to make conversation. “What were you saying?”

Eloise propped her chin in her hand. “So what really brought you to town? I know better than to think it was just me.”

Sam chewed his lip, not sure how to answer. In the street below, a boy chased a dog that chased a ball. Nostalgia tugged in his chest. Sam had owned a black and white dog almost like that once. Maybe the mutt below was a great-grandpup.

“Did you stay away because you don’t like me living with Daniel?” she asked.

If Eloise was telling the truth, she was now partnered with the former ghost of a former pirate who was currently working as the sea captain of a tourist cruise. Sam hadn’t wrapped his head around that one yet and honestly wasn’t certain he wanted to. On the other hand, Daniel Blackthorne seemed like an okay guy, and he took care of Eloise as if she were a queen. Besides, he’d been there last year when Eloise needed him. Sam hadn’t, so he didn’t get a vote.

He really was a horrible brother. The heat of shame crawled up the back of his neck and burned his ears. The least he could do now was be honest. “I decided to postpone my visit until the road rally. I thought I’d combine the trips.”

Eloise seemed to weigh his words, making up her mind. “The North Coast Antiquarian?”

“Yeah.” For the first time that afternoon, Sam felt hopeful. “I brought Betsy.”

“Is she a friend?” By her tone, Eloise meant girlfriend.

Sam couldn’t stop a smile. “Betsy is a cherry red 1955 Chevrolet Belair convertible. I rebuilt her with a friend, Ian Palmer. It took years, not to mention a small fortune, but it was worth it. She’s beautiful.”

Eloise did that thing with her eyebrow again. “Sounds like you’re in love.”

“I might be. We’re entering her in the NCA rally.”

“Really?” Eloise straightened in her chair, clearly interested. “What’s the prize?”

“A quarter million to first place. We’ll split the prize if we win. Ian wants to travel. My share plus my savings will get me started in my own vintage auto parts and repair business. I have my eye on a place back in Portland.”

Sam ducked his head, suddenly feeling as if he’d said too much. Still, Eloise was his little sister. Who could he tell if not her? The truth was, almost nobody. Sam didn’t do chummy as a general rule.

His cell phone buzzed and he pulled it out of jacket pocket, thinking it had to be Ian. His friend should have arrived with Betsy by now. “Excuse me,” he said to his sister and put the phone to his ear.

By the time he ended the call, his hands had gone numb with shock. He looked up, words forming and fraying as he grappled to make sense of the news.

Eloise leaned forward, clearly sensing trouble. “What is it?”

Sam’s eyes stung and he blinked hard, setting his jaw. “There’s been an accident.”

COLLAPSE