"Of all the holiday weekends, Labor Day weekend was her favorite. It was a time when the city dwellers left empty homes behind and headed for the beaches for one last hurrah before jumping back into the routine and getting the kids back to school. It was that time of the year when the urban growl dimmed to a purr, the light changed, and the earthy, sharp smell of fallen leaves could transport you into another mood entirely. Surely a traipse through the city on such a day would lift her spirits."
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AUTUMN DREAMS: RAVEN HARBOR ROMANTIC SUSPENSE BOOK 3
Her porch light was off, but Daniel Beck couldn’t resist. Something had driven him to her tonight and nothing would stop him from knocking on her door. But he didn’t have to. She’d begun to open it before his knuckles even touched the wood.
Her smile was warm and inviting like she’d been expecting him. But he knew better than to kid himself. It had been so long since that smile had been for him.
“I’ve been thinking about you,” she said, “needing to see you.”
She was dressed for bed.
He hesitated. “Oh, I’ve come too late. I should come back another time.”
“It’s OK. I’m not sleepy.” She opened the door wide. “Come in.”
He entered cautiously. He felt like an intruder. It was unusual for him to stop by so late.
“I’m sorry for coming at this hour. I thought I’d take the chance.”
“I’m glad you did.”
He looked ahead into the room. There were candles everywhere. She’d moved to stand in front of the fireplace, the light of the flames backlighting her, a soft shadow of her body visible through the fabric.
“I’ve been thinking about you, hoping to see you.” She dropped the shoulder of her robe. “Come here, Daniel.”
He couldn’t believe his eyes. She was standing on a bed she’d made on the floor.
“I like to sleep beside the fire. I remember the night we did that on Shoal Point.” Slipping her robe off her other shoulder, she clasped it closed between her breasts. Her chest rose and fell heavily. Then she lowered herself to her knees and sat on her heels where she began slowly pulling open her robe, exposing her breasts first, continuing until she was naked before him. “I’ve wanted you with me here for a long time, you know.”
He walked to her as the heat shot to his loins.
“Take off your shirt. I want to see you,” she said, her voice seductive.
He obeyed, pulling it hastily over his head and tossed it across the room. He felt the stiffness in his pants surge forward.
“Come closer,” she invited.
He stood before her where she unbuttoned his jeans and let them drop to the floor. Then she laid down, beckoning him with her hand.
When he lay next to her she pulled his hand to her body. She wrapped her leg around his thigh and rolled herself on top, her lips brushing his. Her breath was hot. She offered her tongue first, then a caress to his abdomen, sinking her hand lower until she had him in her grasp.
Her voice spoke to his core with the next words, “Make love to me like you used to…”
Daniel Beck stirred. The dream was so lucid he could almost touch it; so vivid that he would swear he felt the silky, warm pressure of her skin on his. The weight of her body lingered. He almost believed he’d see her by his side when he opened his eyes. But he didn’t dare. Instead, he squeezed them together tightly and pulled the blanket over his head, desperate to will himself back into the fantasy. But it had drifted too far out of reach.
“Shit!” Slamming a fist against the mattress, he rolled over onto his painfully hard erection, groaning. For several more minutes, he lay there as the reverie disintegrated. Finally, reluctantly, he opened his eyes to the day. It was of little consolation to his waking life, but Daniel knew the illusion would return. It was a recurring dream and the woman starring in it appeared to him now only while he slept.
The unwelcome memories shoved their way in, taking up their usual haunt as he regained consciousness. Since the day he’d lost her, a million and one regrets gnawed at his every waking thought. It had been his fault that she’d slipped through his fingers.
But every night he surrendered himself oh-so-willingly to her beautiful phantom as he fell into sleep. Without fail she’d come to him. And it was like old times, like they were before all hell broke loose, back when she loved him; before he’d made one disastrous choice after another that had landed him in this living hell. And as pleasurable as they were, once he was awake his dreams lashed at him. But he hung onto them like an addict.
Daniel lunged out of bed for the shower, turning it cold then stepping in. The biting, icy water had become his friend—however fleeting. Yet, the moment his body warmed again, her ghost flickered back into his thoughts. She lived there, waiting for him to let his guard down to bewitch him once more.
He dressed hastily, pulling on his jeans with an angry tug, the zipper on his hoodie catching when his frustration got the better of him. Stomping out the door, he made his way from the guest house across the lawn and entered the back door to the main house. In the kitchen for coffee, he stood at the counter and took in the spectacular ocean view while he calmed his temper. His brother and sister-in-law were away for the weekend. Soon he’d be moving back to his place in the city. It would be good to get home. He hoped the familiar sights and the routine might help him gain distance from the dead-end fantasy.
His laugh was both rueful and light when he remembered what day it was. Of all weekends, she loved this one most–even when she was a kid. He smiled. A brief thought that he should bring her a gift made him reach into his jeans pocket and pull out a small gray rock. He fondled it affectionately. It was literally a touchstone for him, and he carried it everywhere. It was the lone reminder that still connected him to Olivia. A talisman for good, he hoped.
He’d already given it to her once, back when they’d been happy, carefree and in love. His eyes stung at him. She’d thrown the rock back at him the day she’d taken her love away.
She’d never accept it from him again, no matter how much he wished. The rock had already taken on another layer of meaning.
But Daniel fought the sorrow, telling himself like he always did, that if he could just figure out the right way he could get her back; that the man who’d won her love from him was somewhere far away. He hoped–no, he prayed that man was gone forever. Because if he had forever, he knew he could make her love him again. It was just time he needed, he told himself, over and over.
The clatter and squeal of the train wheels below jarred Olivia Sarlin, who’d been staring dully at the passing scene. When she glimpsed her face mirroring back at her in the window, she quickly shut her eyes, but it was too late to dodge the wave of melancholy. Blinking them open one at a time, she stuck out her tongue at her reflection.
Her intention this morning had been to dust off her flagging spirits and head across the bridge; an escape plan from the reminders that hammered her at every corner. These days going anywhere in Raven Harbor was like taking a haunted house tour of her life. The ghosts plagued her at every pass of the yacht club, the town square, and every happy restaurant. Even a jaunt to Eden Point Resort was no longer a pleasure–not to mention that she’d gone nowhere near Majic Beach. The memory of Antonio was everywhere.
She’d reluctantly picked up an early morning call from Loulou Cavendish, telephoning with an invitation to brunch. They were both in the same situation as far as Antonio was concerned. More than just cousins, he and Loulou were as close as twin siblings and the impact of his self-exile and disappearance had hit her just as hard.
Olivia’s first impulse had been to turn her down. But when Loulou pointed out that they could at least use the opportunity to commiserate together, and in the process, the outing might do them both good, she reconsidered, finally agreeing. It would
lighten the load if even just a little. So, she mustered enough resolve to get herself out the door.
Usually, she looked forward to this weekend. Of all the holiday weekends, Labor Day weekend was her favorite. It was a time when the city dwellers left empty homes behind and headed for the beaches for one last hurrah before jumping back into the routine and getting the kids back to school. It was that time of the year when the urban growl dimmed to a purr, the light changed, and the earthy, sharp smell of fallen leaves could transport you into another mood entirely. Surely a traipse through the city on such a day would lift her spirits.
She’d been doing her damnedest to keep her nose buried in work.
As the melancholy sucked at her like quicksand once more, Olivia shook free and squared her shoulders, putting on the happiest face she could for her friend. But when Loulou came into view, the pretense fell away. Her captivating friend’s ginger curls spilled glamorously about her. It was good to see some of her radiance had returned. Distancing herself from Raven Harbor had obviously been therapeutic.
Loulou had chosen a Provençal style sidewalk café in the tony neighborhood where she now lived. The spotlessly kept streets and chic surroundings were an additional boost to transport Olivia out of her troubles. She hoped it would have more than a lingering effect and made a point to be in the moment.
Loulou’s face lit up when she spied Olivia. She stood and opened her arms wide. “Lord, are you ever a welcome sight!”
Olivia hugged her back tightly, letting go reluctantly.
“Have a seat and make yourself comfortable, gorgeous girl, because we are going to be here a while. And that,” gesturing to a chilling bottle of Champagne, “is only the first. And we are eating everything that strikes our fancy.”
Olivia made a conscious effort to release her tense shoulders and smile, resting her purse on the terrazzo table and pulling out a French-rattan chair. “That sounds like heaven, Loulou.” As she sat, Loulou grabbed her hand and focused intently on her.
“How are you, lovely? You look distressed.”
“I’m fine.” Her friend had seen right through her contrived veneer. “But I might ask the same of you.”
“I get by,” she said showing her teeth, but her smile was tight. Since Antonio had gone underground, Loulou had packed up and left Raven Harbor. Like Olivia, she hadn’t been able to face the memory of happier times in town, even choosing to spend as little time as possible in her Giffin Square office. “But I can confirm how brilliant an idea it was for me to relocate to the city, as hard as Granny tried to talk me out of it.” Loulou squeezed her hand harder. “I’m sorry I left so suddenly, Olivia. I really wanted to tell you, but I felt that spending one more moment there would be the end of me. I was going to implode.”
“I think you made the right move, Loulou. I might have done it myself if I’d thought about it enough. And I was sad to find out you’d left, but I wasn’t surprised. If it hadn’t been for the fact that my life is so entrenched in Raven, I might’ve moved with you.”
Loulou grabbed Olivia’s other hand. “You know, if you ever need to get away, just come. I will leave word with the doorman today. Really, Olivia. Just come.”
“That’s sweet, thank you. But you know what? I really am fine. Kaley’s back Sunday and I’m sure with all the projects coming up I won’t have time to look behind and dwell on any of it. Full steam ahead, right?”
Olivia saw the faraway look in her friend’s eyes. She hesitated to ask her about it, but this was why they’d come today. They had to share whatever was bottling up and get it out. She began softly. “Have you heard any news?” When Loulou’s brow furrowed, she regretted her question.
Loulou blinked quickly and forced a smile. “No. But I am sure he is fine and Granny says things will be resolved in no time. She has an investigator looking into it. It is very hush-hush because, of course, we need to find him without giving anything away to the authorities. I’ll just be happy to know he is well and not leading the life of a desperate man on the run in some ramshackle rat hut.”
“Has Claey—,”Olivia stopped herself when Loulou winced. “Sorry.” She started again. “I mean, has David been in touch?”
“You mean Agent ‘Jones’?” Loulou gave a sarcastic sniff. “Whomever the bloody hell he’s calling himself now, he has attempted to contact me, yes. But I’m not in the least interested.”
Olivia doubted that, venturing gently, “He said he was sorry. I heard him say he loved you that night on the tarmac.”
Loulou focused on her pointedly. “Olivia, from the very beginning he lied to me about who he was. He lied about his name. How can I know that ‘David’ is even his real name?”
“Because he told you when he was on the job. You saw his ID.”
“Not a lot of people get FBI credentials, Loulou. I’d say you could rely on him actually being David Jones.”
She sighed. “I’ve seen too much already not to be skeptical.”
“He works undercover. Of course he would have different names.”
“Yes, well, he has yet to explain to me why he called himself Claey when we first met. Bloody hell!” The ice bucket wobbled as Loulou angrily extracted the Champagne bottle and filled their glasses, bubbles overflowing. “Let’s drop the subject because this is supposed to be a day of fun and forgetfulness, remember?”
Olivia’s spirits sagged. She wholeheartedly believed Agent David Jones was the one person on the inside of the investigation who actually had Antonio’s back. He’d flat out stated he didn’t believe that Antonio was guilty of the crimes he’d been accused of. She had hung her every hope on that.
Loulou could be forgiven for never more trusting he was who he now declared himself to be. But surely, if a person was carrying around FBI credentials it would be reasonable to accept that as proof.
Even if her friend didn’t trust David’s identity was true, she herself had no doubts. And she was sure that his pledge of support for Antonio and his statement of belief in his innocence was sincere. Surely he wouldn’t waiver just because Loulou wouldn’t see him. But of course, that meant that because she was no longer communicating with him she’d have no news to share.
And David had been out of touch, back under cover, so there’d been no way for Olivia to contact him. But he’d said that if he found out any information about Antonio at all, he’d figure a way to get it to her. Hadn’t he promised?
The waiter was now tableside pouring a fresh bottle of Champagne. Loulou handed a newly filled flute across the table and abruptly changed the subject. “So, what glamorous events are you planning now, my darling? Fill me in on all the juicy details because I’m desperate for diversion.”
But Olivia’s mind was wandering elsewhere. Antonio was a fugitive. His sailboat, his cars, and his properties, everything he owned and left behind had been seized and was in the hands of the Feds now.
Before he went on the run, it was his warehouse she was going to use for the shelter. Now what would she do? Even yet she hadn’t yet been able to wrap her head around every implication of what he was facing. He was a suspected felon, implicated in crimes he’d sworn he didn’t commit. Clive Garo had set him up. It was him the FBI should be going after.
“Come back to earth, Olivia.”
Olivia swiveled her head toward Loulou, who added, “Drink up, my darling. We’ve a lot of rehydrating to do.”
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